It sounds like an uncontroversial proposal: The IRS could set up a simple, optional, online tax tool, filling out your forms automatically using info the government has on file. Yet over the past year, community leaders have been coming out of the woodwork against such a thing. Rabbi Elliot Dorff, for example, wrote an op-ed saying that he "shudder[s] at the impact this program will have." What prompted the response? Well, Dorff tells ProPublica that he heard about it from a former student—who neglected to mention that she works for a lobbying firm linked to Intuit, the makers of TurboTax.
"I wish she would have told me that," Dorff says. ProPublica research director Liz Day discovered the link when she noticed that many of the op-eds and letters against the online system contained similar language—which it turned out, had been crafted by lobbyists and PR professionals. Many of the writers, like Dorff, were unaware that they were being fed by tax industry forces. Intuit has been lobbying for years against the public system, which some studies indicate could make tax prep a five-minute job for about 40% of Americans, according to Jordan Weissman at Slate. (Read more TurboTax stories.)