Cargill

Lance Cargill's $1,320 Apology

Here is Mick Hinton's insightful Tulsa World article about Cargill's costly mea culpa.

Should Speaker Cargill Step Down?

Image of Lance Cargill

(Update: Lance Cargill announced Monday he was resigning as House Speaker. The post below was published on Saturday.)

Does Lance Cargill still have enough credibility to serve as House Speaker? Is he just another player who apparently games the tax system in Oklahoma by not filing state tax returns or paying property taxes on time? Should he be trusted as a major state leader in determining how tax dollars are spent?

These are questions that are sure to come up after The Daily Oklahoman published yet another story about the state representative’s tax problems. Cargill, a Republican from Harrah, apparently was late on property taxes for six straight years, according to tax officials. The property taxes were due on his law office in Harrah.

Earlier, it was revealed Cargill did not file state tax returns for the last two years until warned by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Four other legislators, including three Democrats, were also warned about not filing returns. To his credit, Cargill has admitted to the press that he made a mistake in each case.

Cargill also faces lingering questions about how he handled some 2004 campaign contributions that were supposed to go to the Oklahoma Republican Party but, instead, ended up at the Oklahoma County Republican Party. Some political insiders also say Cargill was involved in a “pay to play” scheme in recent years that allegedly strong armed lobbyists into contributing money so they could have access to the state political leadership.

No one is suggesting Cargill give up his legislative seat at this point. Perhaps, the vast majority of voters in the Harrah area believe their particular elected officials do not have to file and pay taxes on time, though this seems highly unlikely, and they can always vote him out of office. The problem here is the House Speaker position is a significant one when it comes to budget matters, and the person who occupies it should be above reproach when it comes to paying and filing taxes on time because he/she has a major say in how tax dollars get spent.

Even The Daily Oklahoman, a conservative, Republican-supporting newspaper recently editorialized: “Speaker Cargill keeps making mistakes or showing lapses in judgments that give his political enemies more fodder to shoot down his ideas and attack his leadership.” (“File folders: Lawmakers fail to comply with law,” January 22, 2008.)

As Okie Funk has recently argued, state Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan, a Democrat who faces indictments in a political corruption case, should at least take an administrative leave from his position. New information in the case suggests he should resign entirely. His particular position demands unquestioned public trust. Okie Funk also believes Oklahoma County Commissioner Brent Rinehart, a Republican, should resign given the charges against him and the particular duties and influence of his position.

Speaker Cargill, of course, does not face criminal charges, but his position also demands unquestioned public trust. If Cargill does not step down as Speaker, it shows Oklahomans that everyone here can game the tax system. It shows, just like the McMahan and Rinehart cases, that it is politics as usual in Oklahoma in 2008. This transcends political affiliation and, unfortunately, remains a part of the state’s legacy.

No Excuses: State Legislators Must File Tax Returns

Image of Lance Cargill

I know Oklahomans without health insurance, people who make around $30,000 a year or less, and they have had to PAY more in state taxes at the end of year. But they filed their taxes on time.

So is it too much to ask Oklahoma’s elected officials to file their state taxes?

The Daily Oklahoman reported Sunday five state legislators—House Speaker Lance Cargill, state Sen. Connie Johnson and state Reps. Don Armes, Ryan McMullen, Jabar Shumate—were warned recently by the Oklahoma Tax Commission for not filing state tax returns. Nolan Clay and Randy Ellis wrote the copyrighted story, headlined "5 legislators are warned for not filing" on Newsok.com. It is an insightful and telling piece of reporting.

Speaker Cargill’s failure to file his state tax returns over the last two years until warned by state officials seems especially hypocritical. Cargill, a Republican from Harrah, pictured right, simply said he made a mistake, had a miscommunication with an accountant and hurried to file the returns. But the attorney's excuse does not add up. Is he so important and rich and busy he does not even know if his taxes are filed? If so, then he is completely out of touch with the vast majority of Oklahomans, who would never even think about not filing their taxes.

Cargill, in his powerful position, has much to say about how state tax dollars are spent, and that is why his failure to file his state taxes on time seems so hypocritical. As Clay and Ellis point out, he voted in favor of a 2003 law that requires state agencies to fire employees who consistently do not file state taxes. So should Cargill get fired? What about state employees who did not file their taxes for two years in a row? So does Cargill think they should get fired, but he should not get fired? This would be an obvious double standard.

According to the story, "Intentionally failing to file a state income tax return is a misdemeanor, even if no further taxes are owed. The crime has a maximum punishment of a year in jail and a $5,000 fine."

Johnson, a Democrat from Oklahoma City, was warned for not filing taxes in 2004, 2005, and 2006, according to the story. She blamed it on a 2002 divorce. The excuse seems bogus. Divorces can be tough, and there are often money issues involved, true. Many of us can relate. But common sense argues someone who can take the time to get elected to a state legislature in this country to represent taxpayers can certainly find the time and the means to file tax returns no matter what. How exactly did the 2002 divorce prevent her from filing taxes? She said, “the paperwork, you know, the ex has it and some accountant has it . . .” Can Johnson not obtain her tax-related documents elsewhere? How does a 2002 divorce prevent someone from filing a tax return in 2006?

Armes, a Republican from Faxon, according to the story, said he did not file his 2005 and 2006 returns because he had “too many irons in the fire.” Whatever. Armes should resign his position as a legislator—a position we can assume he actually spent time campaigning for—if it means he cannot file his state taxes on time or, you know, maybe he can remove an iron and replace it with filing a tax return. Is he really that busy?

McMullen, a Democrat from Burns Flat, was notified he had not filed his 2001 and 2006 tax returns. According to the story, McMullen said he was a college student in 2001 and consequently did not have to file a return. Okay, fair enough. But he blamed his failure to file his 2006 return on “the rigors of this job.” He, too, should resign his position if the legislature gig is so terribly difficult and time consuming. What if a welder or a mechanic or a teacher used the “rigors of the job” excuse for not filing taxes?

Shumate, a Democrat from Tulsa, was warned he had not filed tax returns in 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006. His response, according to the story, was this: “It was a shock to me.” So apparently he did not file state tax returns for five years, and it is a shock because by law he was reminded of this fact by a state agency. Shocking, indeed! Did Shumate really not know he had failed to file the returns? How does that even happen? Even if his excuse were true, what type of person would not know he/she had not filed a state tax return for five years?

No one right now is claiming these politicians owe tax money or are evading taxes, but the fact is none of the excuses pass the smell test, and it just shows again how many politicians today remain out of touch with the vast majority of citizens in this country. These politicians and others obviously do not have much in common with most ordinary Oklahomans, who would never even consider for a second not filing their state taxes.

I know Oklahomans without health insurance, people who make around $30,000 a year or less, and they have had to PAY more in state taxes at the end of year. But they filed their taxes on time.

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