Death, taxes, and the Union-Tribune

— How trustworthy are the editorials of the San Diego Union-Tribune? In at least one case, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, not very. A lengthy expos´┐Ż headlined "Media Money" in this month's edition of the magazine reports that the U-T ran an editorial supporting abolishing the federal inheritance tax without informing readers that the paper's publishers, Helen Copley and her son David, had a personal stake in the issue. "Copley Newspapers, Cox Enterprises, and Morris Communications have paid a lobbyist $950,000 since 1996 to fight for the end of the 'death tax,'" reports CJR. "In June the San Diego Union-Tribune, a Copley newspaper, published an editorial entitled 'The Death Tax: Repeal the Most Unfair of All Federal Levies': 'House Republicans and Democrats were right to pass legislation that phases out the death tax not only on family farms, but on all family-owned businesses and other assets.' Not mentioned was the direct financial interest of the Copley family in the legislation and attendant lobbying efforts in that regard. 'We are contributors to a fund that is trying to eliminate the estate tax,' Hal Fuson, Copley's chief counsel, told us. 'There was nothing particularly surreptitious about it.'" Copley was not alone as a media lobbyist. "An investigation by CJR and the Center for Public Integrity found that since 1996, the 50 largest media companies (defined as companies that derive half or more of their revenues from broadcasting, cable operations, publishing, online media, and their content providers) and four of their trade associations have spent $ 111.3 million to lobby Congress and the executive branch of the government."

Tax troubles

The former owners of the Padres have received a bit more bad news from federal judge Thomas J. Whelan. San Diego Padres baseball partnership is suing the federal government over a five-figure tax refund that the Padres say they are owed. "In the late 1980s, the Major League Players Association filed several grievances against the Clubs alleging interference with the rights of free agent player," wrote Whelan, outlining the history of the case. "In 1990 the disputes were settled by arbitration. In 1994, Plaintiff paid several players pursuant to the 1990 settlement. Defendant, through the Internal Revenue Service, classified these payments as wages earned in the year of payment. Plaintiff paid Federal Insurance Contributions Act and Federal Unemployment Contribution Act taxes on these payments. Plaintiff then sought a tax refund through IRS administrative proceedings which concluded on April 22, 1997. Two years later, Plaintiff brought this action seeking a tax refund." Since the San Francisco Giants filed a similar suit, now being heard by the Ninth District federal appellate court, the IRS asked Whelan to delay the Padres' case, a move opposed by the partnership. But this summer Whelan sided with the government and granted the stay. "Plaintiff waited for almost two years before commencing this action on April 21, 1999. Plaintiff's voluntary two-year delay coupled with the limited financial stakes at issue (approx. $20,000), convinces this Court that a stay would not be unduly burdensome on either party."

Corrupt in Vista

A crooked Santa Ana city councilman who was tripped up by an FBI sting has been dispatched to house arrest in San Diego County while he awaits sentencing for his conviction on 25 counts of corruption, including extortion, money-laundering, and mail fraud. Ted Moreno took $31,000 in illegal campaign contributions from a gas-station owner who wanted to get a beer-and-wine license approved by the city council, according to the Orange County Register. Unfortunately for Moreno, the gas-station owner was wired for sound, and the transactions were videotaped by the feds; the tapes showed Moreno giving the businessman a high-five after collecting a cash-stuffed envelope. After his conviction on September 5, some of Moreno's city-council colleagues said they feared for their safety if he was released on bond prior to sentencing, so last Friday a federal judge let Moreno out on $200,000 bail, provided he reside day and night at his sister's house in Vista, monitored by an electronic device.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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