In April of this year the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken owed $70,000 in back taxes and penalties in 17 states, going back to 2003. The disclosure was attributable to the digging of Michael Brodkorb of Minnesota Democrats Exposed, left unnamed in the original Star Tribune story.
Today the Star Tribune purports to assess the factuality of various ads attacking Franken for not paying taxes. Franken has not in fact paid taxes required by applicable tax laws. The Star Tribune nevertheless finds the ads under review “misleading for what they don’t say and the implication they leave.”
The ads are accurate. The Star Tribune nevertheless finds them misleading. The article explains that Franken earned income across the country as an entertainer and has blamed his accountant for Franken’s failure to pay the taxes owed in each state.
Among other things, according to the Star Tribune, the ads don’t note that Franken’s tax problems are his accountant’s fault! According to none other than Franken himself! And that Franken has actually paid taxes on the relevant income, only in the wrong states! According to a spreadsheet provided by none other than Franken!
The Star Tribune notes that Franken has not produced copies of his tax returns. The Star Tribune does not note that Franken has not addressed any tax issues that predate 2003. The Star Tribune does not note that Franken’s accountant isn’t talking — apparently on Franken’s order — or that one might reasonably draw negative inferences under the circumstances.
A new round of ads on Franken’s tax problems that includes his attribution of responsibility to his accountant and his accountant’s clamming up on the subject might be more effective than the ads that are the subject of today’s Star Tribune article. Some day the Star Tribune might even want to follow up on the questions itself.
Al Franken is a comedian who hasn’t been funny in a long time. The humor for which he has been responsible over the past few decades has been unintended. Today’s Star Tribune story is another example of the phenomenon.
UPDATE: A former IRS agent writes:
Blaming the accountant is rarely if ever successful with tax authorities. Blaming an accountant WITHOUT any malpractice claim against the accountant is particularly telling….An accountant is always happy to earn more fees preparing more tax returns. Traveling entertainers can hardly be ill informed about their filing requirements. Of course there is also a concept known as â€œwillfil ignorance.â€ During 41 years at IRS I faced many such situations.
Blaming an accountant may not work with the IRS, but it works like a charm with the Star Tribune.
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