Franken Pays $70,000 in Back Taxes to 17 States

Al Franken accidentally forgot to pay $70,000 in taxes to 17 states over the past five years.

Al Franken Pays $70,000 in Back Taxes  Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken says he paid taxes on all income, but the money didn't go to the right coffers. Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken, front-runner in the race to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, said on Tuesday that he has paid $70,000 in back taxes and penalties owed in 17 states, going back to 2003.

Franken, who has earned income across the country for celebrity appearances and speeches, blamed his accountant of 18 years for failing to pay the appropriate taxes owed in each state. The accountant, Allen Chanzis of New York, “just made a basic kind of error that had a lot of ramifications,” Franken said. Franken said that he paid federal and state taxes on all of his income, but that the accountant had failed to properly distribute the tax payments.

In addition to sending all the checks to one place, the accountant apparently didn’t realize that you have to dissolve corporations that are no longer in operation if you don’t want them to continue to have tax liabilities. Oops.

I’m no great fan of Franken but this explanation strikes me as quite plausible. People who make that kind of money hire accountants and sign where they’re told and write out whatever checks are necessary. Due diligence tends to involve a quick scan to make sure nothing’s obviously out of whack.

Further, it’s completely ridiculous that a resident of Minnesota would owe state taxes simply because he gave a speech elsewhere. The accounting burden alone for such a policy is a nightmare. Then again, a lot of municipalities have started collecting taxes on commuters and, more recently, on visiting professional athletes. How that’s enforceable, I don’t know, but it is.

Most early commenters on this are less forgiving:

  • Karl @ PW weighs in with “Al Franken is a bigger, fatter tax deadbeat.”
  • Ed Morrissey believes it was likely an honest mistake but “he just didn’t care enough” to pay attention. And, “he wants Minnesotans to believe that he cares about their concerns when he didn’t care enough about his own business to run it properly.”
  • Sean Hackbarth quips, “Ah, tossing the accountant under the bus. At least it wasn’t his grandmother.”
  • John Hinderaker charges “Franken is either a scofflaw or an incompetent.”

via Memeorandum

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Blogosphere, Law and the Courts, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. glasnost says:

    Something I really appreciate about you as a blogger is demonstrated here, James. A lot of right-wing and left-wing bloggers create their opinion about stories like this completely out of one-dimensional loathing for the ‘bad guys’. There’s no attempt to genuinely assess the validity of neutral explanations. For someone like, oh, Michelle Malkin, the story reads, “Al Franken…paid $70,000 in back taxes and penalties”. Period. The explanation might as well be a string of 1’s and 0’s. A story like this makes the target an automatic felon.

    Left-wing bloggers, of course, make the same mistake. Anyway, your sober approach on judging the context of events by.. the actual description of the context.. is always a breath of fresh air.

  2. William d'Inger says:

    I dislike Franken, but I think his excuses are reasonable this one time. If it ever happens again, he should get no mercy.

  3. Bithead says:

    Franken apparently has his Willie Nelson imitation down pat…

  4. floyd says:

    Abbey Hoffman is quoted as saying “Free means you don’t have to pay”.[lol]

  5. As a small business owner, I find this amusing. I would offer my thoughts but clearly they will only be interpreted through a political lens as either being for or against Mr. Franken, so never mind.

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    I agree that this is likely not Franken directly deciding to try and avoid taxes. But it does raise two questions for me. The failure of the accountant is very like what could happen a CEO under Sabine Oxley. Someone makes a mistake in their area of specialty. So what is Franken’s position on Sabine Oxley? Will he work for its repeal or does he want the underling excuse for himself but not for others.

    Second, there is the question of judgment in hiring. It isn’t reasonable to expect Al to be a tax law expert or to mind the details he hired someone else for. But why did he hire this accountant who made the mistakes? Hiring judgment isn’t as crucial in a senate position as it is for an executive position, but it is instructive in competence.

    Of course, don’t expect the MSM to bother questioning a liberal about things like this.

  7. soccer dad says:

    My first inclination when I saw the headline was “What a jerk.” Then, like you, I realized that this was the result of same kind of tax grab that every athlete experiences. This isn’t being a scofflaw, it’s being hamstrung by greedy governments.

  8. Bithead says:

    But thAt’s policy he’s been supporting all along, calling anyone who doesn’t want to pay up, ‘greedy’, Soccer Dad.

    To quote that great American, Jeremiah Wright, the chickens have come home to roost.

  9. Bob Paine says:

    Taxing visiting celebrities and athletes has become a “pain free” tax adopted by many high tax municipalities. A few years ago there was a television special showing Shaq O’Neil signing a pile of state tax returns at least a foot high.
    I can’t stand Franken’s politics and righteousness but I completely understand this mistake. What I find borderline hilarious is that living in the high-tax Republic of Minnesota he missed a chance at an income break by offing some of his income to other states.

  10. Beldar says:

    The sad fact of the matter is that lots of taxing authorities will initially take the position that they have jurisdiction over income that it’s not at all clear they have jurisdiction over. When challenged in court, they often fold their tents and disappear in the still of the night.

    I already hold Al Franken in such low esteem that this doesn’t matter to me one way or the other, but as a matter of general principle, I’m disinclined to accept as presumptively valid the assessments rendered by other than his home-state taxing authorities.

  11. Marcia says:

    I don’t buy Al Franken’s “My accountant didn’t pay the taxes”. If his accountant is not his booking agent, Franken needs to tell him he had income in a particular state. I don’t think most accountants are mind readers. He would also have to tell his accountant that he was no longer going to use a corporation in a state is was formed in order for the accountant to know he needed to close it. I know if I don’t tell the person doing my taxes that I have a income from some source, she can’t file it in my tax returns. Way to take responsibility Franken. Is that what you will do as a senator also. Well, I didn’t vote for that!!!!!

  12. Marcia says:

    I read in the Star Tribune this morning that Franken claims he overpaid Minnesota and New York for amount similar to what he owed in the other 17 states. This is even harder to believe. Why would those states not have refunded the overage? His accountant has been told to say “No Comment” and “I’m told you have all the information you need”. I hope this accountant fires Franken. With friends like him who needs enemies. Of course, the DFL in Minnesota will stand behind Franken, they like their candidates to be from the left! Hang in there Senator Coleman!

  13. James Joyner says:

    Why would those states not have refunded the overage?

    Because the states where he’s a resident naturally believe that they’re owed a cut of his earnings. He has to document that he was taxed elsewhere and doesn’t owe that money.

    I’ve had to do that a few times myself. But in my case, I simply moved to a new state during the tax year.