04.14.11

America's Tax Cheating Politicians

More than 3,000 federal tax crimes were referred for prosecution in 2010, and a few of them happened have an elected official as the defendant. With Tax Day coming up, The Daily Beast scours the records to find whether Democrats or Republicans have the worse tax problem.

With Emancipation Day pushing this year’s tax deadline to Monday, filers will have a few extra days to complete and review their IRS forms. And if those who haven’t completed their taxes yet also hold public office, they’re going to want to be extra careful.

Gallery: America’s Tax-Cheating Politicians

While most politicians uphold their public duty with integrity, a few are sometimes brought down not by their deeds, but by their taxes. As Al Capone found out in the 1930s, if authorities don’t have the evidence to convict on corruption or other more serious charges, they can always turn to tax returns. That’s because taxes have to be paid on all income, regardless of source.

Since Tax Day will be the talk of the weekend, The Daily Beast scoured hundreds of news reports going back to the 1990s to find which political party can claim the most tax offenders. We came up with a list of 25 politicians who have been embroiled in tax scandals over the past two decades.

We devised the following points system to rank them:

• 3 points for each felony tax offense.
• 1 point for each misdemeanor tax offense, or official ethics conviction.
• .5 point for each felony tax indictment.
• .25 point for each misdemeanor tax indictment.

And, because a Congressional tax scandal garners more negative attention than a mayoral tax scandal, we also took the level of public office into account:

• 1 point for a state legislator or mayor.
• 3 points for a U.S. representative, statewide official, or federal lobbyist.
• 5 points for a governor or presidential nominee.

Finally, because come sentencing time the courts tend to favor defendants who plead guilty, we knocked off a point for the scofflaws who pleaded guilty. Ties were broken by the amount of taxes owed, if determinable, or by fine levied.

The verdict? Turns out Republicans have the bigger names—Jack Abramoff, Randy “Duke” Cunningham—but Democrats have the most tax scandals by a margin of 18 to 7.

The offenses encompass a spectrum of cases and officials—an indication that no public official or office is immune. There’s Jerry Fowler, former elections commissioner of Louisiana, who funneled state dollars toward a voting machine company in which he had an interest. Bill Campbell, former mayor of Atlanta, who knowingly owed the IRS more than $60,000. And former U.S. treasurer Catalina Villalpando, whose signature was on U.S. currency from 1989 to 1993—and owed the IRS more than $45,000.

Republicans and Tea Partiers tend to shout the loudest when it comes to tax reform, and they’re also the most law abiding—when it comes to paying their taxes, anyway.

Research by Clark Merrefield