Opinion

David Cay Johnston

Eliminating 100 million tax returns

David Cay Johnston
Apr 9, 2012 12:19 UTC

On March 28, the U.S. Justice Department sought to close a nationwide chain of income tax preparation shops it accuses of fraud. The action underscores the potential for abusive business practices that taxpayers face because Congress has failed to embrace technology that would eliminate most tax returns.

The Justice Department wants a federal judge to shut down Instant Tax Service, whose sole owner is Fesum Ogbazion of Dayton, Ohio, saying he is responsible for “extensive and pervasive tax fraud.” It also sued four of his 276 franchisees. The company has not responded to the lawsuit.

Congress could easily eliminate fraud by abusive tax preparers, as is alleged in the Ogbazion case, and save taxpayers billions of dollars annually, by simply ending mandatory filing of tax returns for most taxpayers.

About 100 million taxpayers — those whose income is entirely from wages and retirement funds, and who do not itemize deductions — should not have to file returns. The government already has the information it needs to calculate the taxes these people owe, once they supply their marital status and number of dependents. It would not take much to automate their income tax payments, as many other modern countries do.

I put the chances of Congress taking such a sensible course at one in 84,000. That’s about the same as the odds of being indicted for a tax crime in 2011, based on an analysis of official data by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Where’s the fraud, Mr. President?

David Cay Johnston
Dec 13, 2011 15:07 UTC

By David Cay Johnston

The views expressed are his own.

A new report from London and President Barack Obama’s statements to “60 Minutes” show financial crimes spreading like wildfire and governments failing to stop them.

Tax evasion equals 18 percent of global tax collections, a new report by British accountant Richard Murphy shows. His report for the Tax Justice Network cleverly lined up a World Bank Report on the size of shadow economies with a Heritage Foundation report on average tax burdens by country to reach that figure.

Murphy’s $3 trillion estimate, 5 percent of the global economy, shows how a combination of weak rules on accounting and disclosure combined with inadequate budgets to enforce tax laws impose a terrible cost on honest taxpayers and the beneficiaries of government service.

A history of audit failures

David Cay Johnston
Nov 11, 2011 20:07 UTC
The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The admission by Olympus Corp that it falsified financial reports for more than a decade should not shock anyone. The shock is that, for years, auditors failed to detect such massive fraud.

The failures of auditors to uncover cooked books, which run the gamut from Adelphia to Waste Management Inc, are a cancer on the accounting industry.

The failures go back years. How about Al Dunlap’s manufactured numbers at Sunbeam in 1998? Or teenage con man Barry Minkow’s ZZZZ Best, which turned out to be a Ponzi scheme and collapsed in 1987? Or Equity Funding, with its computer program to fabricate life insurance policies, in 1973? Or the National Student Marketing “pooling of interests” fraud in 1970, which gave birth to the Financial Accounting Standards Board? Or the 1938 McKesson & Robbins scandal, which gave us the first American audit standards? Or Ivar Kreuger’s 20 percent dividends Ponzi scheme in 1932?

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