Harold Ford's Tennessee Tax Dodge

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.

Harold Ford's Tennessee Tax Dodge

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.

Harold Ford's Tennessee Tax Dodge

CLARIFICATION: This post originally said that "Ford has presumably chosen to instead file in his other home Tennessee, which conveniently has no income tax." That was changed to reflect the fact that, since Tennessee has no income tax, there's actually no return to file there.

SECOND CLARIFICATION: A reader points out that Tennessee does have an income tax on dividends and interest, just not wages, so Ford actually almost certainly did file there.