Congress

AICPA Fails to Take an Adequate Dig at Congress in Tax Extenders Press Release

The AICPA "commends" Congress for a lot of things that it shouldn't, among them, dragging its feet on renewing the godforsaken extenders bill. What's amusing is that every so often, the AICPA tries to get all high and mighty about what they've recommended Congress do, when they know full well that those legislative cretins will […]

Maybe Now You’ll Take the Opposition to Auditor Rotation Seriously

It's fair to say that accounting firms are conservative organizations. That is, they prefer that things in their world remain more or less the same and when extremely rare and unforeseen events occur that mandate change, it be carried out with as little disruption as possible and on their terms. NBD, right?   The PCAOB, […]

Social Media’s Ideas for Tax Reform Can’t Be Worse Than Anything That’s Been Kicked Around So Far

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) and Representative Dave Camp (R-MI) report in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that since Congress has spent ample time listening to interest groups, it's about time they got really serious about tax reform: In the coming weeks, we will give you the opportunity to provide your input as well. No need to […]

Tax Nerds Feeling Vindicated After Their Long-held Viewpoints Are Paid Lip Service

Tax Policy Center co-director Eric Toder is feeling good today. Why? Some people known for not doing much of anything productive are saying things that sound remarkably like some people who plan to do something productive! The House Ways and Means Committee, in a letter signed by all its Republican members to Budget Committee Chairman […]

AICPA President: CPAs Are on the Verge of Anxiety Attacks Thanks to Federal Deficit

Barry Melancon speaks on behalf of all the CPAs, CGMAs across this great land who have had it up to here [bridge of nose] with Congress' inability to accomplish anything other than naming post offices: “CPAs in communities large and small and from coast to coast are increasingly troubled by the government’s inability to come […]

The Fiscal Cliff: As a CPA, People Expect You to Know this Crap

You spent five (or more) years studying to be an accountant, passed the hardest professional licensure exam that exists, and people expect you to know some shit about taxes. They don't care that you're "an auditor" because they don't know what that means. Now when you go to parties, somebody will be like, "Hey, Mark, […]

Understanding the Estate Tax: The Rich Lose Because They Have To Pay It, and the Poor Lose Because They’re Poor

If I've learned anything from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, it's that dead men tell no tales; however, the rich ones still pay taxes which is good news, especially for those who can't afford Disneyland. Some Americans are in favor of radically increasing the taxes on the rich while others want to […]

AICPA Exec Under the False Impression That Congress Is Concerned About How Their Stalling Really Messes Things Up

Similar to the Ohio Society of CPAs, AICPA Tax Executive Committee Jeffrey Porter's request of Congress not only to act, but to act quickly, is charming. Charming in an Ernest P. Worrell kind of way, but charming nonetheless. In written and oral testimony, Porter addressed the impact of tax uncertainty in several areas and made recommendations on behalf […]

Congressional Leader Clearly Knows Nothing About Congress’ Capabilities

The Hill reports that jolly orange giant John Boehner is speaking at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation today and he's telling the crowd that when Congress finally gets around to tax reform, they'll be coupled with an extension of the Bush tax cuts. “Any sudden tax hike would hurt our economy, so this fall — […]

Just Blow Up the Tax Code Already

Tax wonk Christopher Bergin has some concerns that if President Obama and Congress don't do something some about our tax system between now and the end of the year, a bomb will go off: If Congress and the President do nothing about our tax system between now and the end of the year, here are just […]

Congressional Members Seem to Have Their Orders Re: Auditor Rotation

You may remember that last Wednesday I put my grown-up clothes on and attended the PCAOB's open meeting on auditor rotation. It was a good discussion (relatively speaking) and I got chat with some pretty smart people. I can't work a room of old white men like Adrienne (few can), but Chairman James Doty seemed […]

Congress Isn’t Interested in Discussing the Payroll Tax Cut Right Now

House Republicans on Tuesday declined to recognize a House Democrat who was trying to speak about the need for Congress to quickly resolve its differences about how to extend the payroll tax cut. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) gaveled today's pro forma session to order at about 2 p.m. After the House prayer and Pledge of […]

The Year in Taxes: Sleepwalking Through 2011

  In January, the tax world was still reeling from the extension of the Bush-era tax rate cuts signed into law in December.  It also allowed rich people who died in 2010 to go to their rest without paying estate taxes, making George Steinbrenner a happy ghost.  It also allowed living taxpayers to make tax-free […]

President Obama Just Might Ruin His Family Christmas for the Payroll Tax Cut

That’s what Harry Reid is saying anyway. I’m not a parent, so I’m not exactly sure how a man would explain to his daughters that they’ll have to spend Christmas on the beach without Dad but he can always Skype in from the West Wing, or he could take the Paul Ryan approach. [Reuters]

Don’t Look Now But There Is Glimmer of Sensible Tax Policy in Congress

A long-overdue measure to limit state taxation of non-residents has cleared its first committee, reports the Tax Policy Blog. The House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 1864, the Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act, which provides:

An employee’s wages or other remuneration shall be subject to state income tax only in either:

-the employee’s state of residence, or

-a state where the employee is present and performing employment duties for more than 30 days during the calendar year. A day counts if the employee performs more employment duties in that state than in any other state during that day. Travel time does not count.

For traveling taxpayers, that’s good news. Lord knows how many loyal Going Concern readers flit from state to state in their unceasing efforts to ensure that the Nation’s financial statements are fairly stated in all material respects. But it’s also bad news — it reminds us that right now you can be taxable in a state after spending as little as a day there.


Why are the states so greedy? Think of LeBron James. When he visits the Staples Center to beat up the Clippers, the home team may lose, but the Franchise Tax Board wins every time. But the tax law in its majesty applies as much to the newbie auditor sent to count vegetables as to LeBron.

Fortunately for our auditor, the firm will probably tell her how much of her income is taxable in each state. Unfortunately, it won’t do all of the extra tax returns she will have to file in all of the exciting states a modern jet-setting auditor may visit.

H.R. 1864 is a long way from perfect. Its biggest flaw is that it doesn’t protect visiting entertainers or athletes. Sure, LeBron can afford the tax help to file in a couple dozen states, but the same rules apply to minor league ballplayers, comedians trying to become senators, and your friendly struggling road band. Still, anything that helps abused staff accountants isn’t all bad.

The proposal is a long ways from becoming law. The high tax states hate any limitations on their ability to pick visitor pockets. Still, it’s nice to have at least a glimmer of hope for sanity.

Did You Know The IRS Is Four Times More Popular Than Congress?

It’s a pretty sad reflection of the current state of affairs in my homebase of Washington, DC if the IRS, Paris Hilton, Nixon circa Watergate and the BP oil spill have a higher approval rating than the 112th Congress.


According to Chris Cillizza in WaPo, the only thing less popular than Congress is Fidel Castro.

And as we already know, the Fed is less popular than the IRS too.

Patriotic Millionaires Implore Congress for Higher Taxes

And it doesn’t appear (at least on the surface) that Warren Buffett put them up to it.

[via TaxProf]

Memo to Congress: Cutting Funding for NPR Should Be NBD

The NPR funding debate is a litmus test of how serious Congress in general and Republicans in particular are about spending cuts. If Congress can’t even cut NPR it is a sign that deficits are here to stay and . . .dare I say it . . .tax hikes will be necessary. Or perhaps you don’t care that your children will be paying big chunks of their diminished incomes to the Chinese. [Martin Sullivan/Tax.com]

We’ll Drag Them Kicking and Screaming if We Have To

“Then what we’ve done is lay a predicate for this next Congress to deal with where we have $3 of spending cuts for every dollar of revenue increase.”

~ Erskine Bowles

PCAOB Puts Congress On Notice; Requests Public Enforcement Proceedings

Despite the setback that was the creation of the PCAOB, the Big 4 have to be pret-tay, pret-tay, pret-tay pleased with the privacy they get when it comes to the Board’s disciplinary actions.

Perpetually-acting chair Dan Goelzer wrote a letter to the Senate Banking and House Financial Services Committees saying that by keeping the proceedings mysterio and out of the public eye. The current arrangement “gives firms and auditors an incentive to drag out litigation, sometimes for years,” and that simply won’t do.

Despite the general public’s disinterest in all things accounting (until the shit hits the fan, of course), the Board is still trying to find its place as the relatively new kid on the bureaucratic block. This request seems to be an attempt at fitting in:

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s proposal would repeal a requirement that its disciplinary actions remain secret, according to a copy of the document reviewed by Dow Jones.

The public now is denied access to information about accountants that have been sanctioned or charged by the PCAOB, acting Chairman Daniel Goelzer said in an Aug. 24 letter to several members of the Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Services Committee.

Since the federal government has been all about transparency lately, it would be surprising for Congress to take the Board up on the offer. The problem is, it won’t really do much to speed anything along and transparency will remain an issue. If you remember, last month the SEC issued its final rule on the PCAOB appeals process that goes into effect next week.

That rule will: allow firms to dispute findings during the inspection process; prohibit the PCAOB from making those disputed findings public until the SEC investigation is completed and the SEC still has the option to make findings permanently private, if it so chooses.

So even if Congress is convinced that the PCAOB’s plan to make the proceedings public is utter genius , accounting firms will still be able to drag things along (and keep things secret) as they see fit.

Accounting Board Seeks Public Enforcement [WSJ]

Memo to Washington: Please Consider Tax Reform

“Instead of reprising their partisan, tiresome, and largely unproductive argument about what to do with the Bush tax cuts, President Obama and Congress ought to be asking a very different question: How do we build a tax system capable of generating the revenues we need to fund the government we want in the most efficient and fair way possible?”

~ Howard Gleckman

Accounting News Roundup: 1099 Reporting Is the Latest Political Football; Financial Reporting Overhaul in the Works?; Zynga’s CFO Hire Spurs IPO Talk | 08.02.10

Parties Play Politics With Unpopular Tax Measure [WSJ]
The new 1099 reporting requia bit of belly aching to point of many groups asking for a repeal. Too bad the members of Congress are the ones with the power to actually make something happen:

“The House rejected a bill Friday that would have repealed the provision. The two parties disagreed on how to make up the lost revenue.

‘This foolish policy hammers our business community when we should be supporting their job growth,’ Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska said in the Republicans’ weekly radio and Internet address Saturday. ‘It’s only one example of how the administration’s promise to support small businesses really rings hollow.’

Democrats blamed Republicans for Friday’s failure.

‘Despite all of their rhetoric about the need to eliminate this reporting requirement, Republicans walked away from small businesses when it mattered most,’ said Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.”

FASB Alumnus Trashes GAAP (and IFRS) [The Accounting Onion]
“I suspect that the folks being paid the big bucks to make the tough calls on accounting standards don’t pay a lot of attention to to the likes of Tom Whatshisname, even were I to announce that the sky is falling. But, I don’t take it personally. Over the past 40 years, any PhD not drawing a salary from the Big Four has been viewed with more suspicion than respect by the standard setting establishment.

I mention all of this now, because there is a new voice, whose credibility and qualifications cannot be so easily dismissed. That voice belongs to FASB alumnus David Mosso, who has written an 80-page monograph entitled Early Warning and Quick Response: Accounting in the Twenty-First Century). If you don’t want to believe me, take it from him: GAAP is broken.”

Group formed to overhaul financial reporting [Accountancy Age]
Meanwhile: “A project to overhaul company reporting has been launched by a high level group of accountants, businesses, regulators and market participants.

The International Integrated Reporting Committee will look at the wider concerns about financial reporting, in terms of addressing risk, and presenting a clearer and broader picture of companies’ performance, including governance and environmental issues.”


Goldman Details Its Valuations With AIG [WSJ]
“How did Goldman come up with the mortgage-securities prices it used to extract cash from AIG?”

Before There Can Be An IPO, First Comes A New CFO For Zynga [Tech Crunch]
Dave Wehner comes in from Allen & Co. taking the spot of Mark Vranesh who is becoming Chief Accounting Officer. What does all this mean? First, it gives most MSM outlets a day or two worth of stories about when Zynga will go public but mostly it means the business of Farmville, no matter how you hate it, is serious business.

Facebook Would-Be Owner Says He Owes His Claim to Arrest [Bloomberg]
“Paul Ceglia, who claims in a lawsuit that he owns 84 percent of Facebook Inc., said his case wouldn’t have been possible if state troopers hadn’t come to his house in October to arrest him for fraud.”

Forced Employee Engagement and the Overworked Employee [The Exuberant Accountant]
“In my many interactions with business owners, I have heard some speak of employees as being ‘lucky to still have a job.’ While that may be true, thinking (and acting) in such a manner is very short sighted.”

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn? [AccMan]
Got business model?

Accounting News Roundup: BP’s Tax Break Could Bring Congressional Belly Aching; Steinbrenner’s Will Postpones Decision Estate Taxes; KPMG Foundation Awards Minority Scholars | 07.28.10

BP Seeks Tax Cut on Cleanup Costs [WSJ]
“In releasing second-quarter results Tuesday, the London-based oil giant said it was taking a pretax charge of $32 billion to cover damages, business claims an the next several years.

That total will be offset against its U.S. tax bill, resulting in a $10 billion reduction in taxes, the company said. The tax reduction will cut the company’s anticipated net spill-related losses to $22 billion, the company said.

BP paid $10.4 billion in taxes world-wide last year, according to its 2009 annual report.

Tax experts said that BP’s filing reflected standard accounting practices, even if the sums involved were unusually large.”

The Boss’ will power [NYP]
“The Boss’ will stipulates that an undisclosed portion of his estimated $1.1 billion sports, shipping and racehorse-breeding fortune will go into a trust for his widow, Joan, 74.

And it assigns Steinbrenner’s lawyer, Robert Banker, to decide whether that trust pays federal estate tax for this year, or not until after Joan Steinbrenner dies.

Although there currently is no federal estate tax for 2010, that could change if Congress acts to close the loophole and enacts such a tax retroactively, putting Steinbrenner’s estate on the hook for $500 million or more.

But under the law, Banker would have nine months from Steinbrenner’s July 13 death to decide if the estate should pay estimated estate tax for a 2010 filing — or at the rate in effect whenever Joan dies. Banker can take another six months before deciding to make that move permanent.”

LinkedIn Value Tops $2 Billion After Tiger Global Investment [Bloomberg]
“Tiger Global Management LLC, a hedge fund founded by Chase Coleman, paid $20 million for a stake in LinkedIn Corp., valuing the professional-networking website at more than $2 billion, said two people familiar with the matter.

The purchase, at $21.50 a share for about a 1 percent stake, was from existing shareholders and doesn’t represent new investment, said one of the people, who declined to be identified because the sale has not been disclosed. LinkedIn, based in Mountain View, California, is closely held.”


Sexy SAP? Surely not!! [AccMan]
SAP is known for helping HUGE companies manage all of its resources including CRM, accounting, HR, etc. etc. with enterprise solutions. There’s no chance that a huge company like this with a slew of mega corp clients could have something sleek and flexible for your small business, right? Dennis Howlett would beg to differ:

“SAP has a reputation of being big, heavy, slow and expensive. Fine for the Nestlé’s and Colgate-Palmolive’s of this world but hardly a fit for an SME business. That’s simply not true. ByDesign can be used by companies as small as 10 users. 20 users would be nice but 10 is OK. If you’re moving from say Line 50 then implementation and data transfer can be handled for less than £10K. You’re going to do a good amount of work yourself in learning how this thing works but SAP has provided plenty of guided learning material to help.”

Including a video that DH has up over at AccMan today. So simple, the editor of an accounting blog can understand it. No more excuses, people.

KPMG Foundation Awards $470,000 in Scholarships to 47 Minority Accounting Doctoral Scholars [PR Newswire]
“The KPMG Foundation [on Tuesday] announced it has awarded a total of $470,000 in scholarships to 47 minority accounting doctoral students for the 2010–2011 academic year. Of the 47 scholarships, the Foundation named 12 new recipients and renewed 35 existing awards. Each scholarship is valued at $10,000 and renewable annually for up to five years.”

IRS Demands $45 Million From Billionaire McCombs [Forbes]
Clear Channel founder and former Minnesota Vikings owner, “Red” McCombs finds himself in a similar pickle with the IRS as Phil Anschutz.

Accounting News Roundup: Congress Still Stalling on Tax Bill; ‘Most Americans Have Not Planned Well for Their Futures’; Deloitte’s Schroeder Joining FASB | 07.15.10

As Tax Cuts’ Expiration Date Nears, Little Consensus [WSJ]
“Lawmakers are negotiating a tax bill, but appear increasingly likely to wait until after the November election to take any final action that could anger voters—either by raising taxes, or by cutting them and thereby deepening deficits. Congress ultimately could decide to extend current tax levels for just a few months, leaving the issue for the next Congress to settle. Another option is a short-term extension of a year or two, avoiding for now the huge cost to the Treasury of a permanent extension. It’s even possible Congress might fail to take any action this year.”

From Jail, Conrad Black Fights $71 Million Tax Bill [Forbes]
“Imprisoned former media baron Conrad M. Black is fighting a $71 million bill from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which says from 1998 to 2003 he filed no tax returns and paid absolutely nothing on $120 million in taxable income.

In a previously unreported lawsuit in U.S. Tax Court, Black, now serving a six-and-a-half-year-sentence in a Florida federal prison, is challenging the IRS’ demands and asserting the income in question wasn’t taxable in the U.S.”

Americans More Optimistic on Economy Than Their Own Finances, Survey Says [Bloomberg]
Who said Americans only think about themselves? “Americans are generally hopeful, and much of the economic news leads us to conclude that we are out of the recession and a double dip is unlikely,” said Robert Glovsky, chair of the CFP Board and director of Boston University’s program for financial planners. “With that said, most Americans have not planned well for their futures.”

Harvey Golub Resigns as AIG Chairman [WSJ]
“A weeks-long standoff between the chairman and chief executive of government-controlled American International Group Inc. ended Wednesday, when Chairman Harvey Golub resigned, saying, ‘I believe it is easier to replace a chairman than a CEO.’

Mr. Golub’s decision marks a victory for Robert Benmosche, the company’s hard-charging chief, who chafed under Mr. Golub’s oversight. Mr. Benmosche had told the board their working relationship was ‘ineffective and unsustainable,’ Mr. Golub said in his resignation letter.”

FASB hires expert to review how new rules perform [Reuters]
“Mark Schroeder, a recently retired senior partner at Deloitte & Touche [DLTE.UL], will serve as the board’s first “post-implementation review leader” and also serve a similar role for the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, FASB said.

The hiring of Schroeder is one of the big steps that FASB has taken to formalize its process for review of how new standards are performing. Banks and investors had complained during the financial crisis that FASB’s new rules on mark-to-market accounting had contributed to freezing the credit markets, but there was no formal process for reviewing the rules.”

What’s the Next Move in This PCAOB Situation?

Jonathan Weil over at Bloomberg has a new column up today and he is less enthusiastic about the Supreme Court decision in FEF v. PCAOB than say, everyone else.

JW is mostly wondering why we should keep having an “independent” PCAOB inside the SEC since the board members will now be at the mercy of the towing the political line inside the Commission, “While the court

Patch This or: How to Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Alternative Minimum Tax

Congress has been twisting itself into knots to pass 70-odd special interest “expiring provisions” this spring, though without success. These provisions that have come within one or two votes of being extended one more time are almost all special-interest provisons, providing tax breaks or direct cash subsidies to folks like biodiesel producers and race-track operators.

Meanwhile, the grandaddy of all expiring provisions goes largely unmentioned. Without new legislation, 24 million additional taxpayers will pay alternative minimum tax this year. That will happen because the AMT exemption for joint returns will fall from $70,950 to $45,000, and from $46,700 to $33,750 for single filers.


The AMT is a shadow tax system with fewer deductions and credits and a different rate schedule; it only applies when it gives a higher tax than the “regular” income tax. The reduction of regular tax rates in 2001 brought the regular and AMT brackets much closer, threatening to bring millions of voters into the AMT system. Congress has been passing “patches” to raise the AMT exemption for a year or two at a time since 2001 to avoid that. The last “patch” expired at the end of 2009.

An unpatched AMT would hit hardest taxpayers in the $100,000-$500,000 income range. Congress doesn’t want to anger that many potential campaign contributors. But where will Congress find the $68 billion or so of income that the AMT is budgeted to raise next year without a patch? The six month unemployment extension failed yesterday in the Senate because it would have increased the deficit by $34 billion.

So what will happen? Presumably an AMT patch will pass to appease voters as the election approaches, deficits be damned. Still, that’s not certain, especially in the current political environment.

So what can taxpayers do? They should start by projecting their tax for 2010. If you have one, your tax preparer is likely to have software to enable you to run the projection. If you use home tax software, it may also include a tax projection feature. Otherwise, you will have to use a 2009 copy of Form 6251, but using the reduced 2010 exemption amounts. Then you should fiddle with some items that affect AMT:

• The timing of your state and local tax payments.
• The timing of your miscellaneous itemized deductions.
• The timing of your capital gains, including capital losses.

Don’t be surprised if you find you have alternative minimum tax no matter what you do, especially if you live in a high-tax state. Then call your Congresscritter and ask for your patch.

Joe Kristan is a shareholder of Roth & Company, P.C. in Des Moines, Iowa, author of the Tax Update Blog and Going Concern contributor. You can see all of his posts for GC here.

Accounting News Roundup: Senate Will Get to Financial Overhaul Post-July 4; Google to Cover Extra Health Benefit Costs for Gay Couples; Barry Wins a Stevie | 07.01.10

House Vote Sends Finance Overhaul to Senate [WSJ]
“The House agreed Wednesday to a sweeping rewrite of the nation’s financial regulations, moving the initiative one step closer to becoming law.

Focus now shifts to the Senate, where questions linger about whether Democrats have nailed down enough support from the handful of Republicans needed to overcome a likely filibuster. The Senate won’t take up the bill until after the July 4 recess, creating an awkward pause in which the bill’s opponents will have one last chance to derail it.”

Google to Add Pay to Cover a Tax for Same-Sex Benefits [NYT]
“On Thursday, Google is going to begin covering a cost that gay and lesbian employees must pay when their partners receive domestic partner health benefits, largely to compensate them for an extra tax that heterosexual married couples do not pay. The increase will be retroactive to the beginning of the year.

‘It’s a fairly cutting edge thing to do,’ said Todd A. Solomon, a partner in the employee benefits department of McDermott Will & Emery, a law firm in Chicago, and author of ‘Domestic Partner Benefits: An Employer’s Guide.’

Google is not the first company to make up for the extra tax. At least a few large employers already do. But benefits experts say Google’s move could inspire its Silicon Valley competitors to follow suit, because they compete for the same talent.”


Senate chairman starts probe of Transocean’s taxes [AP]
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) would like to know whether Transocean’s move offshore was an exploitation of U.S. tax law, “The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is launching an investigation into the tax practices of Transocean Ltd., owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the massive oil spill.”

Sadly, this will lead nowhere since exploitation ≠ illegal in this case. Deplorable? Yes. Tax malfeasance? No. Political pandering? Absolutely.

Deloitte CEO Barry Salzberg Wins Executive of the Year – Services at the 8th Annual American Business Awards [PR Newswire]
It’s a Stevie award! BS beat out Jeffrey Bezos, chairman, president and CEO, Amazon.com; Dominic Barton, managing director of McKinsey & Company; and Joseph Neubauer, chairman and CEO of ARAMARK for the Stevie.

In his own words, “I am very honored by this recognition, which truly is a testament to Deloitte’s progress and the industry-leading work of our more than 40,000 people in the United States. Although we have faced challenging economic times in the past few years, Deloitte’s diverse portfolio of quality services and investment in talent continue to drive our business and differentiate us in the marketplace. We are eager to approach the opportunities that await us and our clients in the economic upturn.”

GAAP and IFRS: Six Degrees of Separation [CFO]
That is, six major differences between the two sets of rules that will have to be ironed out. Namely: error correction, LIFO, reversal of impairments, PP&E valuation, component depreciation and development costs. After that, this convergence thing will be a breeze.

Billionaire’s Heirs May Beat the Estate Tax and They Have Congress to Thank

The New York Times has interesting story on Dan Duncan, a Houston billionaire who couldn’t beat death but his heirs may just beat the taxes thanks to Congress falling asleep at the wheel.

Duncan did all right for himself. He became the richest man in Houston and was ranked 74th on Forbes’ latest list by creating a natural gas empire that he started with a couple of trucks and $10k. Getting self-made crazy rich involves a little bit of luck so now it appears that he has passed on a little of that luck on to his heirs who may be inheriting his $9 billion fortune tax-free.

In case you estate tax mess continues to drag on, and on and on.


The Times story says that the Treasury collected $25 billion in estate taxes in 2008. With that kind of haul how could Congress let this happen? Joe Kristan passed along a little background to us from a Tax Analysts report 2001, some time ago that explains:

Although President Bush is scheduled to sign the tax bill into law next week, the bill contains a sunset provision that invites further debate in Congress during the next decade on whether many of the provisions will become permanent or take effect at all.

Just after H.R. 1836 becomes fully phased-in and estate taxes are repealed, the entire tax cut bill would expire as of December 31, 2010, under the bill’s sunset provision unless Congress enacts new law before that date.

The sunset provision opens up a new arena for debate among conservatives who are eager to make the provisions permanent and liberals who would prefer to postpone phasing in the provisions to pay for other government programs. Meanwhile, tax planners are left questioning the final outcome as they examine the new law.

As originally designed, the bill would have extended through 2011 and made the tax cuts permanent. However, that bill would have been subject to a budgetary procedure known as the “Byrd Rule,” which requires 60 votes in the Senate to alter revenue beyond a 10-year period. To avoid the procedure, Republican taxwriters adjusted the tax cut agreement for H.R. 1836 by allowing the provisions to sunset by December 31, 2010.

Democrats have argued that the sunset provision masks the true cost of the bill because the revenue loss accounts for only nine years of the budget window and less than one year of the bill’s full effect, including repeal of the estate tax. “Not only have they increased the back-loading to hide the true cost of this tax bill, but they have actually eliminated a year from the calendar,” said Senate taxwriter Kent Conrad, D-N.D., in a May 26 floor statement. “What they have done is graduated to a whole new level of accounting gimmickry to disguise the full cost of this tax bill.”

Joe’s emphasis. He then wrote to us, “Stupid? Well, it’s Congress, what do you expect?”

Blame who you want – George W. Bush for signing the expiration into law in 2001 or the Democratic controlled Congress for letting it expire – but at this point in time, regardless of your political persuasion, Duncan’s family and other wealthy families (some wealthier than others) are catching a huge break.

The Duncans didn’t talk to the Times for the story but it does state, “Many lawyers say Mr. Duncan’s heirs have the means and motivation to wage a fierce court battle to challenge the constitutionality of any retroactive tax.”

Good for them. If Congress tries to pull a fast one on them with a retroactive tax they should fight it tooth and nail. Despite the fiscal situation facing the country, Congressional incompetence and inaction shouldn’t get a mulligan.

Accounting News Roundup: Finance Bill Passes Senate, Reconciliation with House Next; Dubai World Reaches Deal with Majority of Creditors; ParenteBeard Announces Emerging Growth Business Practice | 05.21.10

Senate Passes Finance Bill [WSJ]
All this fun Wall St. has been having – drawing populist rage, testifying before Congress – will be ending soon, sayeth Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), “When this bill becomes law, the joyride on Wall Street will come to a screeching halt.” The Senate bill still has to be reconciled in with the House version before being sent to the President; the goal is to have the combined bill completed by the end of June.

Dubai creditors agree $14.4bn deal [Accountancy Age]
Deloitte’s restructuring magician, Aidan Burkett, has pulled a rabbit out of his hat for Dubai World. DW has come to an agreement with 60% of its creditors, that will see the conglomerate repay $14.4 billion, in two tranches, over thirteen years.


Opportunities Abound in Tax and Accounting [FINS]
As the economy recovers, the accounting firms have more opportunities in the tax and advisory areas while in the governmental world, the Federal Reserve, FBI and FDIC are looking for accounting professionals. Options are good.

John Burton, a Columbia Dean, Dies at 77 [NYT]
Mr Burton was the first chief accountant of the SEC where he “stiffened the requirements for financial reporting by companies and lobbied accounting firms to take greater responsibility for the accuracy and clarity of the financial records under their review.”

And regarding the accountant’s “undervalued” role in society (largely unchanged today), Mr Burton wrote that accountants had only themselves to blame:

Mr. Burton wrote an essay for The New York Times in which he argued that, yes, accountants were undervalued in society, but that in many ways they were themselves to blame for a lack of creativity and for not seizing opportunities to influence business trends and political decisions.

“Accountants are not primarily record keepers and checkers,” he wrote in the essay, titled “Where Are the Angry Young C.P.A.’s?,” “but measurers of economic and social phenomena whose measurements can significantly influence the allocation decisions of our society.”

ParenteBeard Launches Emerging Growth Business Services Practice [ParenteBeard PR]
Mid Atlantic firm ParenteBeard’s new Emerging Growth Business Services Practice will serve clients in various growth stages utilizing the firm’s resources in “audit and accounting, small business, tax, international tax, SEC and business advisory [services].”

We’re Talking About Congress, Right?

“I continue to count on good sense and wisdom to trump short-term political advantage.”

~ Ben Bernanke, who may be right out of his mind.

Closely-Held Corporations May Want to Take a Bullet Over the Pending Dividend Tax Hike

As a role model, Andrew Jackson has serious shortcomings, not least his penchant for genocide. But some of his policies are back in vogue, like the casual destruction of the national banking system. Taxpayers may be choosing to be like Andy in another way before the end of t had the bad fortune to get crossways with Charles Dickinson, one of the best pistol shots in Tennessee, when dueling was still fashionable. He met his antagonist across the state line in Kentucky, where duels were legal. Jackson was serious about this one, so he decided to take all the time he needed to do Dickinson in. Given Dickinson’s marksmanship, that meant accepting a bullet. Sure enough, Dickinson’s shot hit home:

The bullet struck him in the chest, where it shattered two ribs and settled in to stay, festering, for the next 39 years. Slowly he lifted his left arm and placed it across his coat front, teeth clenched. “Great God! Have I missed him?” cried Dickinson. Dismayed, he stepped back a pace and was ordered to return to stand on his mark.

Blood ran into our hero’s shoes. He raised his pistol and took aim. The hammer stuck at half cock. Coolly he drew it back, aimed again, and fired. Dickinson fell, the bullet having passed clear through him, and died shortly afterward.

Taxpayers owning C corporation stock might also want to take a bullet, figuratively speaking, this year. That’s because the tax rate on dividends will either leap or soar in 2011.

The increase in the dividend rate is a consequence of the scheduled expiration of the 2001 Bush tax cuts after this year. Prior to the Bush administration, dividends were taxed as ordinary income. As dividends are distributions of corporate income already taxed at a corporate rate as high as 35%, that meant a combined rate of 57.75%. The Bush tax cuts tied the dividend rate to the capital gain rate, now 15%.

When the Bush tax cuts expire, the capital gain rate is set to return to 20%. But without Congressional action, dividends will again be taxed as ordinary income. Given the size of the deficit, the poisonous election-year political atmosphere, and that the President promised to hold the dividend rate to 20%, it’s likely that dividends will be taxed as ordinary income in 2011. That would means a 164% increase the top dividend rate.

But wait, there’s more! Starting in 2013, Obamacare will tack another 3.8% to the top rate on investment income, resulting in a top dividend rate of of 43.4%, making the total tax increase over 189%.

This makes it tempting to take the bullet – a big 2010 dividend out of a closely-held C corporation. It will be especially attractive for shareholders who lack the ability to suck out corporate cash using the usual tricks of shareholder bonuses or rent payments.

Yes, it means taking a bullet. Taking dividends out of closely-held corporations breaks the rules of the C corporation tax planning crib book. Taxpayers go to elaborate lengths to avoid taking income before they have to. But a 189% tax increase might be enough to make some taxpayers take the bullet, like Andy, for the greater good.

You Can Blame the Tax Code for Expensive Baseball Tickets

Since it’s opening day for baseball, there are probably a few of you (non-tax accountants) that are at the ballpark enjoying sun, overpriced beers and, if you’re lucky, some complimentary tickets on behalf of your firm.

If you happen to be shelling out your own hard-earned money however, you’re no doubt aware that price of your tickets continue to go up season after season. Throw in $9 beers and Brother Jimmy’s BBQ and you’ll spend a small grip just to enjoy a day of sport and no work.

What’s the cause of the skyrocketing cost of attending a baseball game, you ask? The tax code of course!


That’s according to an op-ed by two professors, Duke law professor Richard Schmalbeck and Rutgers business professor Jay Soled, in today’s Times.

There are many reasons for the price explosion, but a critical factor has been the ability of businesses to write off tickets as entertainment expenses — essentially a huge, and wholly unnecessary, government subsidy.

These deductions have led to higher ticket prices in two ways. On the demand side, they have fueled competition for scarce seats, with business taxpayers bidding in part with dollars they save through the deductions.

On the supply side, the large number of businesses bidding for expensive seats has driven the expansion of luxury skyboxes and a reduction in overall seats in new ballparks.

The authors note that baseball was, until the 1970s, a “populist sport” and fans of all economic classes could attend games for a reasonable cost. Those days are long gone and the professors blame the ability of corporations to deduct business-entertainment expenses as the culprit. They state that you not need look further than the opening of the new Yankee Stadium that has “3,000 fewer seats than its 1923 predecessor but almost three times as many skybox suites.”

The professors advocate a limit on deductions for on luxury tickets to a low fixed amount (e.g. $50). They cite the outright elimination as “unrealistic” but we can’t recall at time when “realistic” and “Congress” collided in a sentence.

We agree with our esteemed colleague at ATL that if you really want to stick it to the companies who take advantage of tax code’s generous provisions, just make skybox tickets non-deductible altogether.

As the authors note, Corporate America has a love affair with sports-related perks and we’d guess that eliminating the deduction would not stop them from buying luxury tickets. The client relation types in your firms know that there is an intangible value to wooing potential clients in some comfortable confines as opposed to cramped seating in the stands with the commoners.

Throw Out Skybox Tax Subsidies [NYT via ATL]

Possible New Tax Forms Under Healthcare Reform

As we plod into the glistening new vistas of Obamacare, what sort of wonderful tax returns await us there?

The biggest change, one that will hit every 1040 from the simple 1040-EZ to the full-blown 1040 starting in 2014, will be the new “personal responsibility payment.” The PRP is the marketer’s name for a fine for not having an approved health insurance plan.


We’ve mentioned some of the weird enforcement problems this will bring – problems addressed in more technical detail here. The PRP can’t possibly work withrting – the individual numbers are just too small, and the IRS can’t audit everyone. If they are ever serious about this, there will have to be a new information reporting form issued by the health insurers, something like the 1098 form. The form will need to have the taxpayer’s social security number, and maybe some new number identifying the taxpayer’s IRS-approved health insurance plan. We’ll call this Form 1098-BCBS.

The 1040s will have a new form, or at least a new schedule – we’ll call it Schedule DRE. Schedule DRE will have a space to put the number from the 1098-BCBS, or lacking that, boxes to check for why you have failed to do your part to support health care in this great nation. If you don’t check the right boxes, there will be further lines to compute your PRP, which can range as high as 2% of your income. The final tax will carry to the taxes summary at the bottom of the second page of the 1040.

In the higher rent district, there will be new forms, or at least worksheets, to compute the two new Medicare taxes that apply starting in 2013. An additional .9% wage tax will apply to wages over $200,000 for single filers, $250,000 for joint returns, and $125,000 on married filing separate returns. While employers of single taxpayers who employ them all year will cover their tax through withholding, single job-switchers and married taxpayers will have to do this weird new computation on their 1040s somewhere. This one isn’t indexed for inflation, so we should all be there in a few years.

The wage tax computations will be childs play compared to the new 3.8% tax on “unearned income” – a phrase reeking of chutzpah, coming as it does from freaking Congress. This tax applies not only to old-fashioned investment income – interest, dividends and capital gains – but to royalties, rents, and to “passive” income from partnerships and S corporations. Auditing this tax may require all 16,000 of the new IRS agents called forth by Obamacare. “Passive” is defined here by the Sec. 469 rules, which were enacted to deal with tax shelter losses. Tax preparers will need to be very careful in distinguishing “passive” from “non-passive” income in many cases where it never used to matter.

IRS agents will have a field day trying to trip up folks who liked the income to be “passive” when it enabled them to use other losses. This will stimulate the economy of high-end tax consultants, who will quickly earn enough to qualify for the tax themselves, where they don’t already.

The unearned income tax tax will apply to the lesser of “unearned income” or the amount adjusted gross income exceeds $200,000 for single filers, $250,000 on joint returns ($125,000 on separate returns). So a new form will have to add up the “unearned” income from Schedule B, Schedule D, Schedule E, and maybe Schedule F, and compute the tax, which will also carry to the nether regions of Schedule 1040, page 2.

There will be plenty of other changes applying to 1040s between now and whenever Obamacare fully kicks in. There is a nice timetable here.

The IRS isn’t waiting to prepare to enforce these new rules. Going Concern has obtained an exclusive early draft of Schedule DRE.

Here’s Why No One Needs to Get Worked Up Over the Healthcare Reform Earnings Hit

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

The brouhaha over the hits to earnings from the new healthcare law that companies are announcing is much ado about very little.

First of all, the charge is an estimate of future costs and will have no immediate impact on cash flow. And the estimate is unusually large because the accounting rules require costs that would otherwise be reported in the future to be reported now, simply because they are the result of a change in tax treatment.


As my former colleague Marie Leone reports at CFO.com, such “true-ups” over differences in tax and book accounting practices are just that. The real cost will be spread out over many quarters.

More importantly, the hit is the result of a loss of a major taxpayer subsidy. Maybe it made sense before to provide that. But given all the concern about the federal deficit, it seems to me that asking shareholders to bear a bit more of the burden for retiree drug benefits is hardly unfair.

And in the greater scheme of things, the hit may be so small as to have little impact on companies’ valuations, as a Credit Suisse analyst pointed out the other day. General Electric didn’t even break out its estimate for that reason, calling the cost “immaterial.”

The question is whether companies will stop paying for the benefits because of the cost, and that’s unlikely unless they’re willing to compensate for the loss with higher wages, as economist Dean Baker reiterated to me in an email late last week.

“The standard economist view is that the cost of health care comes overwhelmingly out of wages,” Baker wrote. “If they have to pay more in taxes, then it will mostly come out of workers’ pay and have very little impact on their costs and ability to compete.”

If on the other hand, a decline in healthcare costs leads to higher wages, that would mean a stronger economy, so I don’t see how either taxpayers or shareholders will lose here in the long run.

Yes, that’s a big if, but as I’ve said before, the new healthcare law is the biggest effort to rein in costs undertaken to date. Of course more must be done, but the law will provide a big impetus to those efforts.

Hopefully, all this will become clearer as a result of the hearings Rep. Henry Waxman plans to hold next week on this issue, but I’m not holding my breath.

Accounting News Roundup: GOP Says Healthcare Bill Will Expand IRS ‘Tentacles’; Jonathan Weil Counts Some of E&Y’s Bodies; RIP Jerry York | 03.19.10

GOP targets IRS in latest health battle [The Hill via TaxProf]
The GOP is still fighting the health care bill tooth and nail and this may be the most effective strategy we’ve seen so far. Forget about debating coverage, preexisting conditions, etc. etc. Just name drop the IRS and a large group of people may change their minds about the whole thing.

“This is a vast expanse of power,” said Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) during a Thursday call organized by Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee. He said the IRS provisions in the healthcare bill “dangerously expand, in an ominous way, the tentacles of the IRS and its reach into every American family.”

On the surface this appears to be the typical GOP “the IRS is eeeevilllll” pandering but the real concern should be that the Service already has a lot to do. The Hill reports that if taxpayers are required to purchase health care insurance but fail to do so they could face fines. The IRS would be responsible for administering and collecting these fines.

Add that to this small task, “The IRS retrieved $2.35 trillion in 2009 by processing 236 million tax returns. It also is working to reduce a $345 billion gap in the taxes it collects and should collect.” Not to mention they’re trying to update systems, answer more phone calls, getting into high speed car chases. There’s always a lot going on.

And in case Rep. Boustany needs caught up, the Service is already auditing more people and trying to collect every dime nickel penny it can.

Lehman’s Auditor Goes Blind From the Cooking [Bloomberg]
Jonathan Weil is not buying what Ernst & Young is selling. He reports that E&Y spokesman Charlie Perkins denied that the firm had “mischaracertized [the Bankruptcy Examiner’s] findings,” and characterized it this way, “[B]y E&Y’s twisted logic, it would be possible for a company to lie in its financial statements about its off-balance-sheet liabilities, and still manage to account correctly for them in the same financial statements. Imagine that.”

Weil takes off the gloves and digs up some old bodies, namely: partners recently sentenced to prison time for tax shelters; Bally’s (including vice chair Randy Fletchall); HealthSouth; Cendant (man, he’s going way back). Weil then thinks out loud, “With that kind of track record, it’s a wonder anyone would accept anything this firm says at face value again.”

Jerry York, Iconic CFO, Dies at 71 [CFO]
Served as CFO for IBM, Chrysler. Adviser to Kirk Kerkorian and board member at Apple.

These Are the Real Scams: The Dirty Dozen Tax Policy Scams

The IRS just came out with its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams. It is a useful rundown of current ways for taxpayers to create enormous trouble for themselves. While useful, it’s incomplete. It only looks at scams used by taxpayers. Hence, the Dirty Dozen Tax Policy Scams — in reverse order Letterman-style.

12. State non-conformity to federal rules – The federal tax law is complicated enough. When you have to start over in order to compute your state taxes, that’s a recipe for stupid. When you have to file in multiple states, it’s just crazy. California, the nation’s leader in bad ideas, has led the way ttp://www.rothcpa.com/archives/005787.php”>the bandwagon is getting crowded.


11. Asinine feel-good tax breaks – These are stupid tax rules passed to show us just how caring our legislators are. The bill allowing 2009 deductions for 2010 Haiti relief donations is a classic of the genre – it will cause countless people to double up on the charitable deductions, cause state tax return errors, and might well screw up return processing, all without actually helping Haiti.

10. Heads they win, tails you lose provisions – Sometimes the tax laws are designed to screw you. Gamblers are popular screw-ees. The federal tax law taxes gambling winnings above the line, but allows deductions only “below the line,” as itemized deductions, and then only to the extent of winning. If you don’t itemize, you lose. If you don’t have meticulous records, you lose on audit. And in some states, you just plain lose – you are taxed on winning bets, and losses are ignored.

9. Bait and switch tax treats – The alternative minimum tax has made this popular. They enact a politically popular tax break – say, home equity loan deductions – and they disallow it for AMT. So it’s there, but it’s useless.

8. Using the tax law to micromanage your life – Soda taxes. Insulation tax credits. Tax breaks for riding bikes to work. Will anybody ride a bike to work in Des Moines in February because of a $25 tax break? The tax law is full of… this sort of thing.

7. Issuing assessments based on pretend numbers – This has become popular among the states, and at least one academic thinks it should become a national policy.

6. Economic Development Credits – Where the state economic development geniuses take your money to lure and subsidize your competitors. It’s like taking your wife’s purse to the bar to finance your pick-up efforts – the girls aren’t impressed.

5. Film tax credits – If there is a stupider approach to economic development than throwing money at Hollywood, at least this side of North Korea, it must be bipartisan.

4. Sitting on your tax refunds – The states have spent so much of your money that they don’t want to pay what they owe you. When they pay their public employees before they pay what they owe you, it shows where you rank.

3. AGI-based deduction and credit phaseouts – Almost every moronic new piddly tax break goes away as adjusted gross income goes up, whimsically embedding marginal rate spikes all over the tax code.

2. Shooting Jaywalkers – Sometimes the tax law has horrible penalties for trivial, but politically convenient, violations. The 50% of your bank balance FBAR penalty, the $10,000 automatic penalty for late international form reporting, and the insane Section 409A penalties for deferred compensation foot-faults are the kind of penalties that are almost perfectly designed to hammer honesty and reward sneakiness.

1. Expiring provisions – This cynical game enacts popular provisions (see AMT patch and research credit) one year at a time, so that the budgeters don’t have to count the real 5-year cost. The congresscritters, of course, have no intention of letting these things expire, and they often enact foolish permanent tax changes to fund another temporary extension.

Sadly, there’s one key difference between tax policy scams and the Dirty Dozen Tax Scams. You can go to jail if you use a Dirty Dozen Tax Scam, but if you use a dirty dozen tax policy scam, you just stay in Congress forever and ever, amen.

Tax Changes for Haiti Donations Is Bad Legislation. So What?

charlie rangel.jpgNot surprisingly, the House passed H.R. 4462 earlier today in order to accelerate charitable donations made for the relief efforts in Haiti. The bill was sponsored by Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Dave Camp (R-MI).
We pointed out the thoughts of Howard Gleckman over at Tax Vox this morning and our contributor, Joe Kristan chimed in agreement earlier over at Tax Update Blog:

When something bad happens, politicians reflexively reach for the tax code. They should put it down and back away slowly…As bad as Haiti is, it’s not the first disaster ever, and one more change to the tax law isn’t going to solve that sad country’s problems. Of course, the proposed changes are more about politicians making a show of concern than actually accomplishing anything.

While our sentiments are with these two tax gurus, let’s not forget that every single member of the House of Representatives is up for re-election in less than 10 months. No one was going to vote against this bill. The Senate will pass it and the POTUS will sign it.
Noting that the bill is bad policy misses the point. We’ve all gotten used to Congress making the tax law progressively worse, so is it really necessary to mention that two-thirds of taxpayers don’t itemize deductions and thus, won’t see any benefit at all on their 2009 tax returns?
Those two-thirds of taxpayers don’t think about the standard deduction when they donate money to anything. It’s not about solving the problems of the mind job of the IRC, it’s about encouraging people to do what they can to help.
Save the bitching about Congress for [insert anything else].
Haiti Tax Relief [TaxProf Blog]
hr-4462.pdf

SHOCKER: People Make Mistakes Preparing Tax Returns

When the “Government Accountability Office” reported that 68 percent of S corporation returns had errors, a few people who don’t prepare returns for a living were astonished:

By the way, these S Corporation shareholders are mostly comprised of the “small businessmen” that the right-wing anti-tax crowd constantly claims is overtaxed. Hmmmm. Looks like the bigger issue with this group is noncompliance, not overtaxation. We need to increase enforcement efforts, especially focused on the particular items that have tended to be misreported in S corporation returns.

The reaction from tax pros is more like, “you mean 32% of S corporation returns have no activity?”


Breaking news: this stuff is hard. The tax return for an S corporation of any size starts with thousands of transactions that have to be properly recorded – thousands of opportunities for mistakes. Then you start to apply the tax law. You have to find all of the meals and entertainment expenses, and you have to see which ones fail to qualify. Did the S corporation properly include health insurance on the W-2s (probably not)? What about for the owner’s nephew who has a job at the loading dock? Did every fixed asset get capitalized properly? What about the expenses of acquiring it? Can Section 179 apply? Is it new equipment that qualifies for the bonus depreciation rules? Oh, did they apply the Section 263A inventory capitalization rules properly? Did the Section 199 information get properly recorded for all of the shareholders? Interest? Dividends? Are they qualifying dividends? Are there Capital gains? Section 1231 gains – and what about unrecognized Section 1250 gain? Oh, don’t double them up – that Section 1250 number is part of that 1231 number, not an addition to it!

You get the picture. And if you have a multistate return, your fun is just beginning.

Once you think you have taxable income right, then you have to apply it correctly to the K-1 for the shareholders. Then the shareholders have to apply it correctly to their own tax return, even though the IRS-designed K-1 omits crucial information that the taxpayer or his preparer needs – the shareholder’s basis in the tax return, whether the taxpayer is “at-risk” for basis, and the level of the taxpayers involvement in the business.

If 32% of the returns are reported correctly, it’s shocking all right – it’s amazing that so many are
correct
. I’d like to see some law professor, or Congresscritter, try do a tough 1120-S perfectly on a deadline and a budget.

Anybody who has prepared returns for very long has had a “doh!” moment along the way – “holy crap, I’ve been doing that wrong!” It’s not because tax preparers or taxpayers are lazy or evil. It’s just hard.

Joe Kristan is a tax shareholder for Roth & Company, a Des Moines, Iowa CPA firm, where he works with closely-held businesses and their owners. Prior to helping start Roth & Company, he worked for two of what are now the Final Four CPA firms. He writes the Tax Update Blog and is available for seminars, first communions, Bar Mitzvahs, etc. You can see his previous posts for GC here.

Cutting Out SarbOx for Small Business? Here’s a Better Idea: Take the PCAOB…Please

pcaob.jpgHR 3817: Investor Protection Act of 2009. We’re going to stop worrying about HR 1207 since “auditing the Fed” was always a fundamentally moronic idea (even when I cheered it in lieu of ending the Fed outright) and worse, just here, since no one even knows what it means anymore) is on the chopping block now, and for some reason a ballet dancer with a serious grudge against the world is going after it. Fine, he’s just a little later than some of us.


HuffPo reports:

The White House is quietly working to undercut a key post-Enron reform, significantly weakening protection for everyday investors and threatening the administration’s image as a champion for financial regulatory reform.

I’m not sure whose image they are referring to but it certainly cannot be this administration’s (and I say that in the most politically asexual way possible). The only part that bothers me about this is the “quietly”, don’t make it so sinister, please.
HuffPo continues:

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been telling Democratic members of the House Financial Services Committee that he supports amending the Investor Protection Act of 2009 — a bill designed to beef up protection for investors — in order to exempt small businesses from a requirement in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that mandates audits of internal controls. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was enacted in 2002 in the wake of accounting scandals at Enron and Worldcom that rocked investors and damaged confidence in the markets.

Accounting Onion explains the effectiveness of Sarbanes Oxley in a little more detail than we care to, and if it doesn’t feel like you’re chasing your tail yet, wait, we’re not done.
Former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt made it sound as though investors’ balls — and our only hope of getting out of this mess — were instantly twisted at the news.
Call me absolutely out of my fucking mind but this sounds like a small business bailout to me, at least indirectly. Save small business the costs (and benefits) of extensive audits and allow them to pocket the difference?
Good. While we’re at it, fire the PCAOB to save more money.
The PCAOB seems to think that we’ve got an audit problem. I contend here that the problem is with the auditors, and how many of them are being asked to go in there head down and pretend they don’t see a thing? I talk to them all the time. Does the PCAOB? I tell all of them to take notes when they ask me what to do. You PCAOB people should really see some of this, you’d be absolutely appalled.
Skeptical CPA argues that this was bullshit all along and I agree. He shares a moment at a Houston Financial Reporting Symposium. The PCAOB’s own Charles Niemeier (CN) is kind enough to explain his agency’s uselessness:

Someone asked, “Are PCAOB CPAs competent”? CN fumfered that one. Someone else noted most PCAOB CPAs were “former” Big 87654 partners. CN has no problem with that, since only those with large client audit experience could inspect the Big 87654’s work. Hey, CN, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you. CN explained Sarbox was passed to prevent fraud. I ask, has Sarbox improved bank accounting? Some CPAs do what I call “disclosure” audits, i.e., they never dig into “non-accounting” data to ascertain the correctness of a client’s accounting records. For instance, looking at industrial engineering reports which might underlie a manufacturing company’s inventory costs. The Big 87654 is full of CPAs who do not understand cost accounting. CN reminded us the “PCAOB can’t reveal its findings”. I ask why not. Who or what is the PCAOB protecting?

I agree, they don’t know cost accounting. Do you know how many of them fail BEC every CPA exam testing window? It gets tiring.
The point is, I’m not sure this is worth bemoaning. Or maybe it’s just not worth caring anymore, they’re going to do whatever they want with accounting.
Worse, Citigroup, Bank of America, SunTrust, LandAmerica (the list goes on and on) all of these large, unstable financial firms continue to get unqualified audit opinions while 1,790 of 1,800 CPA firms have these guys breathing down their necks. Well not LandAmerica, they already failed miserably.

Arlen Specter Not Pandering to the Bean Counter Vote

Arlen_Specter_official_portrait.jpgArlen Specter is many things. Senator. Cancer survivor. Some might say, turncoat. And since he is a newly minted Democrat, Specter is expected to prove his political stripes.
Well, Specter has decided that the best way to earn those stripes is to embrace the recent investor outrage and introduce legislation that will allow investors to sue accountants, lawyers, and investment banks, that provide, what Specter calls “substantial assistance” in a fraud.
More, after the jump


According to Bloomberg:

Shareholders are barred from suing parties that have only an indirect role in a fraud after Supreme Court decisions that limited liability to those directly and publicly involved in the scheme.The Specter measure would upend rulings in Stoneridge Investment Partners LLC v. Scientific-Atlanta Inc. of 2008 and Central Bank of Denver v. First Interstate Bank of Denver. Prior to the rulings, investor lawsuits against fraud accomplices were common, Langevoort said. The 1994 Central Bank decision was a “major gift” to individuals and corporations that aided in a fraud

The Refco scandal is right at the heart of this debate as attorneys, auditors, and investment bankers were all misled by Philip Bennet, Refco’s then-CEO. Suits against PwC, Grant Thornton, KPMG, and E&Y were dismissed back in April along with suits against several investment banks. Refco’s outside counsel Joseph Collins of Mayer Brown is currently involved in a lawsuit that is being reviewed by the SEC.
We’re all for making accountants responsible when they screw the pooch but if clients just flat out lie and go way the hell out of their way cover those lies up, there’s very little that can be done.
And if there’s one thing that keeps Big 5 4 partners up at night it’s the threat of litigation. The premise that this legislation would increase that litigious exposure is, at the very least, disconcerting to partners.
Specter Law Would Let Investors Sue Fraud Accomplices [Bloomberg]

Newt Gingrich Doesn’t Like the FASB

NewtGingrichPhotograph.jpgCongress seems hella determined to keep accountants from writing accounting rules. HR 1349, aka the Federal Accounting Oversight Board Act, which was introduced in the Spring would create a board that would consist of the chairs of the Fed, SEC, FDIC, PCAOB, and the Secretary of the Treasury.
This merry band of bureaucrats would basically get to slap the FASB around whenever they want. According to Newt “My head isn’t that big” Gingrich, a supporter of the bill, because of the FASB’S independence, politicians can’t torpedo accounting rules that are “destructive”.
More, after the jump


This gem of legislation has 14 co-sponsors, including seven members from the House Financial Services Committee, along with Gingrich and Paul Volcker. It has been referred to the Financial Services Committee so it will getting some Barney Frank lovin’ soon enough.
Say what you will about the wonks in Norwalk but we’re of the strong opinion that handing over the accounting rule bazooka to this board could possibly be the worst legislation since…anything Maxine Waters has introduced.
Congressional Bill Supports Federal Takeover of Financial Reporting [FinCriAdvisor via Jr. Deputy Accountant]

Don’t Worry, the IRS isn’t Getting Too Soft

IRS_logo-thumb-150x140.jpgIn 2004, Congress wanted to lay the smackdown on individuals and entities using tax shelters. In order to scare the beejesus out those thinking about the practice, Congress enacted penalties of $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for entities per non-disclosure to the IRS.
Problem is, Congress, who often pulls out the jump to conclusions mat, didn’t give the IRS any discretion on enforcement so Mom & Pop (who often don’t have kids) shops were getting hammered with fines they couldn’t pay:

In one case cited by the Small Business Council of America, a husband and wife followed the advice of a consultant and set up a limited liability company and Roth individual retirement accounts. When the IRS challenged the way the transactions were done and found income tax deficiencies of $6,812, it was required to impose a penalty of $1.2 million.

The IRS figured that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t really working the way it was intended and has suspended the collection of fines in order to make the penalties more proportional. Not to worry though, the IRS hasn’t decided whether or not apply the changes retroactively and are only suspending the fines until September 30. They wouldn’t want to tarnish their image as faceless cold-blooded bureaucrats.
IRS Halts Fine Linked To Tax Shelters [WSJ]