Daily Archives: April 16, 2014


TurboTax Maker Linked to ‘Grassroots’ Campaign Against Free, Simple Tax Filing

TurboTax Maker Linked to ‘Grassroots’ Campaign Against Free, Simple Tax Filing

Related Stories: Read how the maker of TurboTax, Intuit, has lobbied against free, simple tax filing, or hear how ProPublica’s director of research, Liz Day, discovered Intuit’s grassroots campaign.

Over the last 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 a remarkably obscure topic.


Each railed against a long-standing proposal that would give taxpayers the option to use pre-filled tax returns. They warned that the program would be a conflict of interest for the IRS and would especially hurt low-income people, who wouldn’t have the resources to fight inaccurate returns. Rabbi Elliot Dorff wrote in a Jewish Journal op-ed that he “shudder[s] at the impact this program will have on the most vulnerable people in American society.”

“It’s alarming and offensive” that the IRS would target the “the most vulnerable Americans,” two other letters said. The concept, known as return-free filing, is a government “experiment” that would mean higher taxes for the poor, two op-eds argued.

The letters and op-eds don’t mention that, as ProPublica laid out last year, return-free filing might allow tens of millions of Americans to file their taxes for free and in minutes. Or that, under proposals authored by several federal lawmakers, it would be voluntary, using information the government already receives from banks and employers and that taxpayers could adjust. Or that the concept has been endorsed by Presidents Obama and Reagan and is already a reality in some parts of Europe.

So, where did the letters and op-eds come from? Here’s one clue:

Rabbi Dorff says he was approached by a former student, Emily Pflaster, who sent him details and asked him to write an op-ed alerting the Jewish community to the threat.

What Pflaster did not tell him is that she works for a PR and lobbying firm with connections to Intuit, the maker of best-selling tax software TurboTax.

“I wish she would have told me that,” Dorff told ProPublica.

The website of Pflaster’s firm, JCI Worldwide, had listed Intuit among its clients, but removed it after ProPublica contacted them. Pflaster said Intuit had been listed by mistake, but added that the firm does work for the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a trade group of which Intuit is a member. Pflaster also said her firm has reached out to multiple groups and encouraged them to share information about the “flaws” of return-free filing.

The only CCIA member that’s involved with tax preparation software is Intuit, and it’s also the only member of the group that has taken a public position on return-free tax filing.

Intuit has long worked against return-free filing. The company has said in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it views free government tax preparation as a risk to its business.


Bank of America in settlement talks with DOJ: report

Bank of America in settlement talks with DOJ: report

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Bank of America Corp. BAC -0.25% is said to be in talks for a multi-billion dollar settlement with the Justice Department over questionable mortgage securities sold to investors, according to media reports on Wednesday. The potential settlement could end a civil probe into several legacy issues that have plagued the bank since the financial crisis. The discussions between the bank and the Justice Department have been ongoing for months and follow J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. JPM -0.49% record $13 billion settlement over related charges. There is no word yet on the amount of the settlement. 


NY AG subpoenas high-frequency traders: Report

NY AG subpoenas high-frequency traders: Report

The New York attorney general’s office has subpoenaed about a half-dozen high-frequency trading firms over their relationships with exchanges and dark pools, Dow Jones reported on Wednesday, citing a source.

The report described them as the “first wave” of subpoenas.


U.S. Regulators Examining Departures at Mortgage Registry MERS

U.S. Regulators Examining Departures at Mortgage Registry MERS

As the rest of the housing industry recovers, a little-known firm with a key role in U.S. mortgage finance remains stuck in limbo, wrestling with regulators, lawsuits and the departures of senior employees.

The turbulence feeds uncertainty about the fate of Mortgage Electronic Registrations Systems Inc., or MERS, which documents the ownership and resale of about half of U.S. home loans. A breakdown could force clients such as Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Bank of America Corp. to make costly changes to their loan businesses.

Management hasn’t completed fixes promised in a broad 2011 U.S. settlement designed to stop foreclosure abuses, according to two people briefed on MERS’ operations. Regulators rejected one of the firm’s consultants as unqualified and are examining why four employees hired to help with reforms — including the chief legal officer — recently quit, said the people, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter is private.


NY Regulator Lawsky Said to Subpoena Credit Suisse in Tax-Evasion Case

NY Regulator Lawsky Said to Subpoena Credit Suisse in Tax-Evasion Case

New York’s top banking regulator sent a subpoena to Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN) last week as he examines whether its private bank helped clients evade state taxes, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Benjamin Lawsky, the superintendent of New York’s Department of Financial Services, sought records from the firm’s New York operations, including e-mails, travel records, calendars, payroll information and material on hard drives, according to the person. He also is seeking information on Roger Schaerer, a former top manager at the New York office, and on executives who worked with Schaerer, the person said, asking not to be identified because the probe is confidential.


U.S. watchdog warns about big banks’ use of government-affiliated loans

U.S. watchdog warns about big banks’ use of government-affiliated loans

A U.S. government watchdog on Wednesday warned that big banks have dramatically boosted their borrowing from a federal housing finance program, a move that could pose risks to the government-sponsored system if a big borrower defaulted.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) inspector general also noted that some firms appear to be using funds from the program to meet liquidity standards designed to make banks more stable in a crisis.

The watchdog said in the report on Wednesday that loans to banks by government-sponsored entities that support mortgage and small-business lending jumped in 2013 after declining in the wake of the housing crisis.

That was largely because the four biggest members of the Federal Home Loan Banks system – JPMorgan Chase (>> JPMorgan Chase & Co.), Bank of America (>> Bank of America Corp), Citigroup (>> Citigroup Inc) and Wells Fargo (>> Wells Fargo & Co) – increased borrowing by 158 percent from March 2012 to December 2013, the report said.


Selling Guide Announcement SEL-2014-03 – Fannie Mae | Use of MERS Rider (Form 3158) in Specified Geographic Areas

Selling Guide Announcement SEL-2014-03 – Fannie Mae | Use of MERS Rider (Form 3158) in Specified Geographic Areas

Selling Guide Announcement SEL-2014-03
April 15, 2014
Selling Guide Updates

The Selling Guide has been updated to include changes to the following:
 Property Eligibility and Appraisal Requirements
 Retirement of the Two-Step® ARM
 Retirement of Standard ARM Plans 1030 and 1031
 Use of MERS Rider (Form 3158) in Specified Geographic Areas
 Incorporation of Announcement SEL-2013-10
 Miscellaneous Selling Guide Updates
 Web-based Version of the Selling Guide
Each of the updates is described below. The affected Selling Guide topics are identified below or in the
Attachment to this Announcement. Lenders should review each topic to gain a full understanding of the policy
changes. The updated topics are dated April 15, 2014.