Rabbi Elliot Dorff wrote an op-ed for the LA Jewish Journal against a form of tax filing that would see the government give each taxpayer a completely filled out basic return (either on paper or online) and give taxpayers the completely voluntary choice to sign it and return it or amend it and return it. Dorff claimed it would hurt the poor. But it turns out it was the very rich who are trying to block these new returns and Dorff wrote his piece to help them. But did he know it?
Mother Jones and ProPublica report:
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.…
Dorff is the chairman of the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.
He is also the bioethics expert for the Conservative Movement.
And he appears to be fudging the truth.
Pflaster has been a well-known PR professional for years and Dorff must have known that.
Therefore, even if Pflaster did not volunteer that she was representing Intuit or that trade association, he should have asked her if she was representing a client on this issue and, if so, who that client is. Clearly, he did not.
Is this a simple oversight?
But it can just as well be an unethical favor for his friend followed by a lie to cover it up or a 'favor' that was paid for, either in cash or in services in kind.
Perhaps the Conservative Movement's ethics panel should investigate.