Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Friday, February 12, 2010

Harold Ford - Tax Cheat

Harold Ford Jr., MSNBC commentator, Merrill Lynch employee, and former Congressman from Tennessee wants to run for Senate in NY.

He moved here after he lost his Senate race in Tennessee to Bob Corker in 2006.

He doesn't know much about the state, says he's only seen most of the city's boroughs from the air in a helicopter, and once explained how he loves to take the 6 train to work at the G.E. building even though the 6 train runs nowhere near the G.E. building, but Ford and his pals in the media (particularly on MSNBC's Morning Joe) and with the money (i.e., Mayor Moneybags) think he can knock Kristin Gillibrand off and take her Senate seat.

No one quite knows what Harold Ford stands for - he used to be against gay marriage, but now he's for it...he used to be against abortion rights, now he says he's for them. Interestingly enough, he was against those things when it was good to be against them (e.g., in Tennessee where most people do not hold those beliefs) and now is for those things when it is good to be for them (e.g., in a New York Democratic primary race where most people support gay marriage and abortion rights.)

And no one knows what Ford is good at either - he won his House seat because his father used to hold it, he's a lawyer by trade but couldn't pass the Tennessee bar, and about the only thing he seems to have done at Merrill Lynch is collect an annual bonus that was paid for with TARP money.

Nonetheless, Ford and his friends think he deserves to be a senator from New York.

After all, he's got some very corporate-friendly politics that they like and frankly, he's happy to vote any old way they want him to since he holds no core beliefs about anything,

But today, that dream might just have ended...

When it comes to his shadow run for Senate, Harold Ford is a New Yorker through and through. When it comes to paying taxes, though, he's still a Tennessean — he's never filed a New York return.

Ford claims to have moved to New York three years ago, and says paying "New York taxes" makes him a New Yorker. But his spokeswoman confirms to Gawker that he's never filed a New York tax return — meaning that he's never paid New York's income tax, despite keeping an office and a residence in New York City as a vice chairman of Merrill Lynch since 2007: "He pays New York taxes and will file a New York tax return in April for the first time," Ford's spokeswoman Tammy Sun told Gawker. "He will file all necessary personal disclosure and tax forms that candidates are required to file if he chooses to run." (According to Sun, Ford admitted to the tax dodge yesterday at a press availability in Albany, but we can't find any news accounts mentioning the remarks.)

Ford presumably decided that his real home was Tennessee, which conveniently has no income tax. Which means that, despite the fact that New York law requires part-time and nonresidents to pay income tax on money they earn in the state, Ford has shielded his entire Merrill Lynch salary from New York's tax collectors for the past three years. In fact, it seems like Tennessee's lack of an income tax may be the best explanation for Ford's rather complicated two-state life since 2007 — he clearly wanted to live in New York, and married a woman in 2008 who did live in New York. But he made sure to keep a foot in a state whose tax code is friendly to rich guys like himself.

When Merrill Lynch announced Ford's hiring in 2007, it said he would be keeping offices in Nashville and New York City. Ford has said that he's basically lived in New York since then, though he never technically lived here until last year since he didn't "spend the requisite number of days" staying at his wife Emily Ford's breathtakingly yellow apartment in the Flatiron district. ("Moved is such a legal term," he told the New York Times). Ford was clearly thinking of New York's 184-day rule, which requires that part-time residents who spend 184 or more days living in the state pay New York taxes on all their income.

What he seems to have forgotten is that New York has gone to great pains to prevent wealthy people like him from spending time and earning money in the state and then jetting off to a tax haven come April 15: It also requires nonresidents and people who live there fewer than 184 days to pay New York income taxes on whatever portion of their income they earned in the state.

If Ford did enough business in New York to keep an office there, its reasonable to presume that he earned a good deal of money in New York. Now, we're sure that there are all sorts of accountants' arguments and narrow dodges at Ford's disposal to claim that he didn't owe New York income tax until he moved here last year: He could have been paid out of Merrill Lynch's Nashville office, for instance, and he could have received the majority of his income in a bonus that he could claim he earned in Tennessee, not New York. But while those sorts of arguments may be useful to someone trying to get as close as possible to living in New York without suffering the tax consequences of doing so, they're not as effective when you're loudly thinking about running for Senate in New York by claiming you've lived there for three years and pay taxes there.

So what taxes is Ford talking about, if he's never paid income tax in New York? We've asked Sun, and haven't heard back. The most pathetic (and, by our lights, likely) answer is New York City's 8.875% sales tax, though Ford could also be talking about sharing in property taxes on Ford's apartment, or paying quarterly estimated tax payments on his freelance income as an MSNBC talking head, which he might have started paying last year once he decided to break that 184-day barrier and commit to New York. Or perhaps he instructed Merrill Lynch to start withholding New York taxes from his salary when he established residency in 2009.

And when precisely, did that happen, by the way? According to this Federal Election Committee filing recording a donation Ford made to Colorado Sen. Mike Bennet, he was still using his Memphis address as recently as September 29 of last year—98 days before he announced his interest in Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's seat.

If this doesn't kill Harold Ford Jr.'s flirtation with running for Senate here in New York, I dunno what else could.

Frankly I think Ford is shameless enough to continue running despite using his home state of Tennessee as a dodge from New York state tax, but I'm kinda thinking the shills he works with on Morning Joe and the people he has who are backing him with money (i.e., Bloomberg) will run from him after this tax cheat revelation.

But who knows? Maybe they'll argue paying taxes in the state your purporting to represent in the U.S. Senate isn't a prerequisite for that job.

Hell, we've seen Bloomberg argue day is night before, so he could certainly argue Ford's not paying New York state tax is not a big deal.

And the shills at Morning Joe already twist themselves into pretzels to defend Ford when they'd be bashing any other politician as slick and vacuous as Ford who had the chutzpah to run for Senate in NY, so you never know what they'll do either.

But this looks very bad for Ford.


  1. Ford is among the worst of a bad cohort of neoliberal black politicians that includes Corey Booker of Newark, Adrian Fenty of DC, and many others lower on the food chain. Shallow, narcissistic and wholly-owned subsidiaries of whatever corporate entity wishes to inhabit them, they make me think of the spoiled, self-seeking children of the heroic generation that preceded them. That's especially the case with Ford, who comes out of a local family political and business dynasty in Memphis. He's not going anywhere in New York.

    Obama is in, but not really of, this cohort (except for the neoliberal part). He exists on an infinitely higher political and intellectual level, whatever his (many) shortcomings may be.

  2. Harold Ford is really getting under the skin of haters, the Gillibrand supporters and some bloggers if they are now stooping to attacking him for paying taxes. He follows and gladly pays his taxes - federal, state and local. Accusations that he shielded income are stupid, ludicrous and desperate on the part of political adversaries.

    For his first 2 years out of Congress, Ford maintained a Merrill office and taught at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, while maintaining his official residence in Tennessee. In early 2009, after being married for 8 months (and the 2008 election), he and his wife decided to make New York their official home. He has always followed federal and state tax laws meticulously. He remains a private citizen, but if he decides to run for Senate, I'm confident he will comply with all candidate financial disclosures. Period.

  3. ChrisDJackson,

    I do not support Gillibrand, who is little more than a proxy for Schumer, in any way.

    However, I do "hate" it when a political chameleon, who by your own admission has "lived" in NY State for only one year, presumes that he can even consider representing the people of this state. The only connection that has to NY is its chutzpah, which is off the charts.

    But then again, we live in an Age of Impunity, represented perfectly by Finance's sense of entitlement. Goldman, Merrill, et. al. firmly believe they can use money from the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to pay themselves billions in bonuses (after stripping the country of it wealth), so why shouldn't Ford be entitled to a senate seat? After all, as the Supreme Court says, money is speech, and speech is protected.

    The tone and language of your response has all personal voice of a press release. Let's see: do you work for Ford, Merrill or one of their subsidiaries? Whose subsidiary are you?

  4. Only people like Ford and Chris Jackson could inspire people to perfer a political slug like Gillibrand to Ford. Ford is getting under my skin for numerous reasons but even Don Imus who he has been trying to suck up to has made mince meat of him. How do you say "Dead in the water?"

  5. Norm, you are right on both counts - only Ford himself and his Tennessee pal Chris Jackson could make me sympathetic to and open to voting for Gillibrand.

    And you're right about Ford being "dead in the water" too. When Imus jumps ship, you know that ship is sinking.

    Or already sunk.