Harold Ford was on Meet the Press yesterday, and claimed to have paid taxes on "all New York income" for the last two years. Which is precisely the opposite of what he said last week.
Ford's hapless spokeswoman Tammy Sun told us last week that the shadow candidate for senator from New York "will file a New York tax return in April for the first time," which raised some thorny questions about how he accounted for all the Merrill Lynch income he earned from his work in the state in 2007 and 2008—New York requires nonresidents who earn money there to pay income taxes on it and file returns. Sun based her statement to us on remarks Ford gave in Buffalo on Thursday at a press availability. No sooner did we publish a post saying exactly what she told us—that Ford had never filed a New York return—did she call us to deliver an off-the-record rant and demand that her statement be amended thusly: "During a press avail, he said that he pays New York taxes and will file a NY tax return in April for the first time as a resident." Those three extra words leave room for Ford to claim that he did file nonresident returns in 2007 and 2008. Ford's other spokesman David Goldin followed up with yet another statement on Saturday saying that Ford "filed the appropriate New York tax returns for all income earned in New York."
Well, Ford's precise wording came out over the weekend after the Associated Press and the New York Daily News picked up our story (without credit, naturally), and there's no doubt that he did, in fact, say he had never filed a New York return. Here's what he said in Buffalo: "Let me be clear. I pay my quarterly estimates. I will file a return for the first time, [for] last year, come April, when taxes are to be filed." That's clear enough for us: Ford's been paying quarterly New York income tax estimates as required for his 2009 earnings, and will file a New York return for the first time for 2009. Which means—according to him, at least—that he didn't file any "appropriate New York tax returns for all income earned in New York."
But on his Sunday Meet the Press appearance, Ford tried to clear up the issue once and for all. David Gregory asked him directly, "Have you filed at least a partial return for the time you spent [in New York]?" Ford responded: "Absolutely, paid taxes on all New York income the last two years, and for the first time in 2009 my wife and I will file as residents of New York."
Given the slippery and suspicious conduct of Ford's spokespersons on this issue so far, we feel compelled to point out that, as definitive as Ford's latest statement sounds, it leaves open the possibility that he simply claimed no New York income in 2007 and 2008. As we've speculated before, he could have arranged to be paid through Merrill Lynch's Tennessee operation and accounted for his work in New York as business trips to take advantage of Tennessee's lack of an income tax. And it's unclear whether any bonuses he earned would count as New York or Tennessee income for tax purposes. So Ford could be telling the truth about his New York income in the same sense that your blogger would be telling the truth if he said, "I paid taxes on all Alaska income for the last two years, which happens to be zero." By the same token, Goldin's statement that Ford has filed "all appropriate returns" leaves open the possibility that Ford didn't consider any returns to be "appropriate." Those sorts of linguistic gymnastics would require an almost pathological capacity for mendacity, but this is Harold Ford we're talking about. You can't be too careful.
BONUS CARPETBAGGING GEOGRAPHICAL ILLITERACY: Ford has been mocked (perhaps unfairly) for seeming to not know where in Manhattan he lives, and then (fairly) for not knowing where in the state of New York he lives. So we found it amusing when we read that Ford's tax comments were made during a trip to Buffalo on Thursday, because Tammy Sun told us repeatedly that he'd been in Albany that day. Same difference, right?