Happy Tax Day! Sen. Elizabeth Warren thinks you might be getting scammed.
In a letter to Intuit CEO Sasan Goodarzi, Warren, as well as Reps. Katie Porter and Brad Sherman, laid into the company over its TurboTax tax-filing program's fees. According to the lawmakers, TurboTax offers products that "scam American taxpayers into paying for services that should be free."
At the core of their concern is the IRS' Free File program, through which TurboTax and other participants were supposed to offer tax preparation services to low-income Americans for free. But the lawmakers described that program "a failure" due to underutilization, and noted that Intuit left the program last year. According to stats in the letter, the program was intended to serve 70% of Americans, but as of 2018, it was only serving 3%.
Warren, Porter and Sherman hold TurboTax partly accountable for that, in light of reporting by ProPublica, which found the company was adding code to its Free File site that kept it from surfacing in Google results. The company has since changed that code, according to ProPublica, but that did not apparently satisfy Warren and her colleagues.
They argued Intuit's "influence peddling" in Washington has allowed these issues to fly under the radar. The company previously hired a former top IRS official to be its chief tax officer and, according to the letter, Intuit also hired former FTC chair Jon Leibowitz to defend the company against a lawsuit recently filed by the FTC.
That suit takes aim at TurboTax's "bogus" promises of free tax preparation, accusing TurboTax of "disseminating the deceptive claim that consumers can file their taxes for free using TurboTax" when they often end up getting charged in the end. Intuit called the FTC's claims "not credible."
In their letter, the lawmakers described the suit as "welcome and long overdue."
Now, Warren, Porter and Sherman are asking Intuit to answer questions about its "revolving door" with the IRS and other government agencies. In the letter, they asked Intuit to share the number of employees and external partners Intuit has worked with since 1999, who also held roles in the executive branch. They also asked the question in reverse: How many employees or partners went on to work in the executive branch since 1999? The lawmakers are also asking Intuit to share how much money it's made from taxpayers who make less than $73,000 since 1999.
Intuit has until May 2 to provide answers.
Ultimately, though, the letter isn't just seeking answers. It's also seeking to raise the profile of the Tax Filing Simplification Act. It would give Americans a pre-filled return that they could sign and return to file their taxes. But that bill has been kicking around for years now and only seems to get any mention on Tax Day, so don't hold your breath.
For Warren, the letter is as much about getting answers to questions as it is about pushing companies to change their ways without government intervention. After all, the senator does have a long track record of using letters to get her way.