Bramwell's Lunch Beat: San Francisco's Soda Tax Battle

Were NOOK’s books cooked? Barnes & Noble’s accounting investigated by SEC
In its quarterly report filed on December 5, book retailer Barnes & Noble acknowledged that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) “notified the company that it had commenced an investigation into: 1) the company’s restatement of earnings announced on July 29, 2013, and 2) a separate matter related to a former nonexecutive employee’s allegation that the company improperly allocated certain information technology expenses between its NOOK and retail segments for purposes of segment reporting,” according to a December 6 report in Forbes.

Barnes & Noble announced it is cooperating with the SEC on this matter.

The retailer’s stock also took a tumble following the news. According to Forbes, as of 1:15 p.m. ET on December 6, it was down 7.69 percent. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday evening that Barnes & Noble’s stock dropped 12 percent to $14.43.

‘Big Soda’ set to outspend foes over tax
A ballot measure to tax sodas and other sugary drinks in San Francisco is being proposed by two members of the city’s Board of Supervisors; however, they are expecting what they call “Big Soda” (in the vein of “Big Oil” and “Big Tobacco”) to spend millions of dollars to quash their effort, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Although details are still being worked out, Supervisors Scott Wiener and Eric Mar, authors of two soda tax proposals that are being merged, would levy a two-cents-per-ounce tax on distributors of soda and other sugary drinks.

The American Beverage Association is already gearing up for another soda tax fight in California. The association and other food industry groups last year spent $2.5 million and $1.3 million, respectively, to defeat soda tax proposals in the California towns of Richmond and El Monte. Both measures were rejected by voters.

The next local election in San Francisco –- which could include the proposed soda tax measure –- is in November 2014.

Audit: IRS loses billions due to stolen ID numbers
According to a report released publicly last week by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), tax cheats armed with stolen identification numbers are costing the Treasury billions of dollars a year.

The Hill reported that tax cheats in 2011 were able to steal or falsely obtain approximately 285,000 employee ID numbers, which the IRS uses to identify a taxpayer’s business account. In total, the IRS could be issuing about $2.3 billion a year in these sorts of false payments –- or around $11.4 billion over a five-year span, according to TIGTA.

Proposed IRS ‘Dark Money’ rules spur congressman to drop lawsuit
Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and three campaign finance watchdog groups –- Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center, and Public Citizens -– dropped their lawsuit against the IRS over the agency’s rules for nonprofit political activity, the Huffington Post reported on December 6.

The suit was intended to force the IRS to begin crafting new rules governing the political activity of so-called social welfare nonprofits organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, the article stated.

“In the 2012 election, nonprofits that were not legally required to disclose their donors, commonly known as ‘dark money’ groups, reported in excess of $300 million in political spending to the Federal Election Commission,” Huffington Post campaign finance reporter Paul Blumenthal wrote.

On November 26, the IRS issued proposed guidance for social welfare nonprofits, asking for recommendations from the public on defining the amount of permissible political activity by these groups. The agency also laid out a number of proposed rules defining political activity.

Casualty losses can be a hard sell to IRS
In this December 7 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, staff writer Tim Grant wrote, “If you do happen to lose a pricey ring or bracelet after accidentally falling out a canoe, chances are pretty slim you’ll be able to deduct the loss on your taxes because the guidelines are pretty strict – but it’s not entirely impossible.”

Even thought the IRS allows taxpayers to claim certain casualty losses on their income tax returns, many people do not claim the deductions – either because they fear being audited or they may not even be aware that it is possible.

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