Filing taxes could be easier, but a campaign is preventing it

As millions of Americans scramble to file their taxes by the 11:59 pm deadline on Tuesday, many may be thinking that there must be an easier way.

As millions of Americans scramble to file their taxes by the 11:59 pm deadline on Tuesday, many may be thinking that there must be an easier way.

Actually, there could be, but according to reports, an ongoing campaign is preventing automatic tax filing from becoming simpler. Free and simple tax filing would offer taxpayers the option to use a pre-filled tax return form, meaning it would only take minutes to file taxes for no cost.

ProPublica published a report Monday with details that link Intuit, the maker of Turbo Tax, to lobbying Congress against simple tax filing. In the past year, "a rabbi, a state NAACP official, a small town mayor, and other community leaders wrote op-eds and letters to Congress with remarkably similar language on an obscure topic," according to ProPublica’s director of research, Liz Day.

The letters were allegedly written in opposition of automatic filing because it would prove a conflict of interest for the IRS while hurting people with low incomes.

According to the report, the rabbi said he was approached by a former student, who asked him to write the letter. The student, named by ProPublica as Emily Pflaster, works for a PR and lobbying firm, JCI Worldwide, which has connections to Intuit.

Pflaster told ProPublica that Intuit was listed on the firm’s website by mistake. She admitted that the firm works for the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), and Intuit is a member of the trade group.

Also, Pflaster said JCI Worldwide has reached out to multiple groups and encouraged them to share information about the "flaws" of tax-free filing.

Representatives from Intuit and CCIA did not return calls for comment.

While Intuit may never admit its efforts to combat a simpler tax filing process, it will be hard for the company to hide while it’s spending money on lobbying. ProPublica reported Intuit doled out $2.6 million on lobbying in the past year. Federal lobbying records show some of it went toward four bills related to the issue.

It’s certainly no surprise that the makers of tax preparation software recoil at the idea of consumers having a simpler, perhaps even stress-free, way to file their taxes free of charge. Unless a congressperson decides to step up, it appears that paying the federal government will remain, as Slate put it, a "painful, resentment-generating slog."  

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