Just in time for tax filing day, CNBC ran its hour-long special “The American Tax Cheat” hosted by Squawk Box’s Becky Quick last night four times. And the re-runs will no-doubt be constant. The tone of the special is extraordinarily one-sided. Ms. Quick (or her producers) must feel that all of our money belongs to the government and that the IRS should determine how much of it we can keep to live day-to-day.
Quick sternly tells viewers that those “swindling the IRS” are creating a tax gap of $300 billion each year. And that this swindling is not a victimless crime. Those that pay, make up for those that don’t, an average of $2,200 per person each year. The gap is the difference between what the IRS believes should be rolling in and what actually does. But if those that pay are making for those who don’t, why is there a gap?
At one point the special looked like an episode of CSI–”CSI-IRS” if you will, with Quick donning special glasses as laser testing was being used on certain financial documents. A member of the IRS tech team explains that the agency trolls social networking sites to spot “tax cheats” who are bragging about money they are spending on cars and houses.
Of course, poor old Willie Nelson makes an appearance. The IRS seized all of his assets to “recoup their losses,” as Ms. Quick put it. Al Pacino and Nicolas Cage were mentioned leading up to the big grab of Wesley Snipes, the actor who was sentenced to three years for not paying the man. The IRS admits it targets high profile people as a way to make the rest of the nation compliant.
And the tax collector admitted it “goes where the money is,” focusing on the rich and entrepreneurs. Telecom mogul Walter Anderson went to prison for nine years, but maintains he’s innocent. The IRS claims he moved millions of dollars offshore to avoid taxes.
America’s tax collector is now teaming up with your local law enforcement agencies. The special featured scenes of SWAT teams surrounding a large home in what looked to be the Red Rock Country Club in Las Vegas. Pimps don’t get much jail time for pimping, so LV Metro vice squad pulls in the IRS to put them away on tax charges.
Ms. Quick makes a visit to the IRS-CID (criminal investigations division). They are proud of the legacy of bringing Al Capone down for not paying taxes. These accountants wear guns and badges, and tax avoiders thinking of making a run for it probably took notice of the brief glimpse of agent target practice.
Quick says Edward and Elaine Brown “appear to be a model couple” and then portrays them as nut cases for refusing to pay the IRS. In the end the elderly couple were sentenced to 30 years in prison.
The producers of this special didn’t bother to find an eloquent spokesman to defend the case that taxes are simply theft: The state taking property from its citizens by force. And if you don’t believe it, if you think this is all voluntary, and that if you don’t pay the state won’t care, watch “The American Tax Cheat.” As the point was made during the broadcast, the IRS already has all your information, the tax collector is just making sure what you file matches the information they already have on you.
The irony may not be lost on some, that CNBC is owned by NBCUniversal Media, LLC, of which G.E. owns 49 percent. The New Times reported a few weeks ago that “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” The company reported profits of $14.2 billion worldwide, of which $5.1 billion came in the U.S.. “Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion,” reports David Kocieniewski.
So while Ms. Quick admonishes average Americans who don’t pay up as “cheating us all,” her employer taps into TARP and TLGP during the financial crisis, then earns a profit and works the system for a tax benefit to boot.
Making out that check today is now all the more satisfying.