Majority Of Intuit's Lobbying Dollars Spent Trying To Stop IRS From Making It Easier To File Your Taxes
from the death-and-taxes dept
There has been an effort underway these past few years to make tax season less stressful, less complicated, and less expensive for a large swath of Americans. These efforts have produced plans to make tax season "return free" for many, with pre-populated tax forms prepared by the government that can either be signed if accurate, or ignored if not with a separate filing then being produced by the person in question. That is, since the IRS already should have most of the details on how much you earned from the companies that paid you, it can send you a pre-filled out tax return document, rather than forcing everyone to redo the same work with the same documents hoping that you don't make some mistake that will make the IRS man mad. Again, for those who want to go a different way, they can. But for those who find the IRS's pre-filled documents to be okay, it will make tax filing significantly less of an issue. If you live outside the US, this may sound strange to you, because much of the rest of the world alread does it this way. In a recent episode of Planet Money, the analogy is made that the way we do taxes in the US would be like if credit card companies sent you a "bill" that was a blank sheet of paper, expecting you to fill out all your charges over the past month, and if you got anything wrong, you'd be punished. On taxes, most of the rest of the world the taxes are more like your credit card bill. In the US, it's more like a blank sheet of paper. And, as in years past, some are finally trying to fix things in the US.
This plan has unfortunately run into the extreme distrust of all things government currently weaving its way through America and the gobs and gobs of money from Intuit and H&R Block that is making corporate use of that fear. The lobbying efforts of the tax prep industry has been a multi-year campaign (we've been writing about it since at least 2010) in which money is given to politicians essentially to have them work directly against the interest of their constituents on the subject of paying taxes into the government. It's absolutely bonkers (and partially helped along by anti-tax groups saying that anything that makes paying taxes easier should be stopped because taxes are bad).
But since bonkers is quickly becoming SOP in our government, these lobbying efforts have only ramped up recently, with an increase in dollars spent likely correcting for how simple technology is making tax preparation for most Americans.
Intuit spent more than $2 million lobbying last year, much of it spent on legislation that would permanently bar the government from offering taxpayers prefilled returns. H&R Block spent $3 million, also directing some of their efforts towards the bill. Among the 60 co-sponsors of the bipartisan bill: then congressman and now Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
The bill, called the Free File Act of 2016, looks on the surface to be consumer-friendly. It makes permanent a public-private partnership in which 13 private tax preparation companies — called the “Free File Alliance” —have offered free online tax filings to lower- and middle-income families. The Free File Alliance include both Intuit and H&R Block. But the legislation would also permanently bar the IRS from offering its own free alternative.
There's something especially cynical about a law that is dressed up as a benefit to consumers by creating corporate partnerships making free tax filings available to the constituency, but which likewise prohibit the government from making the collection of its own tax dues more efficient at the same time. This is essentially a jobs program for the tax prep industry, one which that industry has taken to lying to the public through sock puppets in lieu of showing any kind of gratitude. That the industry now has cabinet-level representatives in its bullpen likely means things aren't going to get better for millions of American any time soon.
The reason the industry wants its free filing options codified into law in this way is so that it can upsell the public into paid tax services that it would otherwise not buy and likely doesn't actually need.
In an emailed statement the Free File Alliance’s executive director, Tim Hugo, said that the alliance does not automatically push paid products to those that use the Free File program but the taxpayer does “have the option of ‘opting in’ to receive additional information and offers from the tax preparation company they have selected.”
He said that the lack of awareness of the program is “unfortunate,” and placed blame on the IRS. While the tax agency previously had a large budget to advertise the Free File program, “today that budget is $0, making it difficult to reach the general public,” he said.
While it is indeed a crying shame that the IRS budget to pimp private businesses to the public has been reduced in this manner, it's arguable more of a shame that lobbying money has kept tax season more complicated and costly than necessary. That the industry is spending money to keep a voluntary option for the public beyond reach in favor of upselling that same public is all the more so.