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David Cay Johnston

David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer prize winner, is a columnist for Tax Analysts and teaches the law of the ancient world at Syracuse University’s law and graduate business schools. The Fine Print, the third book in his series about the American economy, is scheduled to be published in 2011 by Penguin.

He is the author of Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) and Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich -- and Cheat Everybody Else.

In 1995, he persuaded the editors of The New York Times to hire him to see if he could devise a new way to cover taxes, focusing on how the system operates rather than what politicians say about it. His work resulted in shutting so many tax dodges, in pressing so many new laws and regulations and enforcement efforts that some tax policy officials considered him, as one tax law professor put it, "the de facto chief tax enforcement officer of the United States."

He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for his running investigation of our tax system and was a finalist for that award in 2000 and in 2003 for beat reporting and for national reporting. He left the Times in 2008 to pursue his book-writing career.

In 1968, Johnston began his career when he talked his way, at age 19, into a job as a staff writer for the San Jose Mercury. When he left nearly five years later he was still its youngest reporter.

He was an investigative reporter for the Detroit Free Press in its Lansing bureau 1973-76; a reporter for the Los Angeles Times in San Francisco and then Los Angeles from 1976 to 1988; a reporter and, briefly, editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1988 until he joined The New York Times in February 1995.

He studied economics at the University of Chicago graduate school and at six other colleges, earning six years of college credits but no degree because he took upper level and graduate level courses almost exclusively.

Over the years, Johnston's many investigations included hunting down a murderer the police had failed to catch, winning freedom for Tony Cooks, to whom a trial judge said "I believe you are innocent, but I sentence you to life in prison."

He was the first reporter to seriously investigate the Los Angeles Police Department, exposing mismanagement, inefficiency, brutality and a worldwide political spying operation. The LAPD now operates under the aegis of the federal government.

He helped save a third of a billion dollars from being snatched from poor children by Barron Hilton. He exposed misuse of charitable funds at the United Ways in Los Angeles in 1986 and Washington, D.C., in 2002 and exposed news manipulations at the most profitable television station in America, WJIM-TV, that ultimately forced the sale of that station and five others. He also broke the story that Donald Trump was no billionaire, but, according to his own documents, actually had a negative net worth in 1990.



Real data v. WSJ editorial page, Fox News, and talk radio
COMMENTARY | June 22, 2011
David Cay Johnston talks about taxes with a true believer who’s got fact after fact showing that tax cuts increase revenue – except all the facts are wrong. Also: Whistle-blowers and the IRS, and Formula 1 and laying off Texas schoolteachers.

Texas as a model for gutting government programs
COMMENTARY | June 06, 2011
It will be hard to destroy Medicare and Social Security because they are funded by what are called “dedicated taxes,” the most stable revenue stream. Hard but not impossible, as David Cay Johnston shows, using the example of Texas’s moves to put teachers out of work and diverting dedicated taxes to Formula 1 racing in Austin.

The House GOP's Medicare plan: Spending $25 trillion to save $5 trillion
COMMENTARY | May 10, 2011
David Cay Johnston, citing experts and his own analysis, says Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republicans' budget designer, is 'deceptive by omission.' Ryan's plan would replace Medicare by having citizens pay greater and greater amounts out of their own pockets or do without treatment.

Let the tax policy debate begin!
COMMENTARY | April 27, 2011
David Cay Johnston writes that, stripped of its flim-flam, the Republican tax plan steals from the poor and gives to the rich -- and makes a good starting point for a serious public conversation about how we distribute the burden of civilization.

At one end in corporate taxes is GE. At the other, the NY Times
COMMENTARY | April 11, 2011
General Electric, as the Times reported, paid zero in income taxes last year, and, as David Cay Johnston finds, a lot lower rate over a ten-year period than smaller corporations, such as the Times. Then again, the Times doesn't lobby Washington about taxes.

Rebuilding after the terrible tragedy in Japan
ASK THIS | March 13, 2011
It may be early for most people to turn to the enormous problems of putting Japan back together but somebody's got to think about it. Here David Cay Johnston gets into the questions reporters should ask, along with basic facts, economic concepts, and financial ramifications, including those for America.

Lowered rates have meant a lot less tax revenue, not more. That's a plain fact. America, we have a revenue problem.
COMMENTARY | March 04, 2011
The mantra – lower taxes bring in greater revenue – has just gone through a decade of testing. The result, writes David Cay Johnston: a lot less revenue, no increase in jobs and no economic growth. It’s time for reporters, news anchors, talk show guests, and syndicated columnists to use the actual figures – but that's unlikely, isn't it?

State and local corporate welfare are mind-boggling. Where's the reporting?
ASK THIS | January 08, 2011
Cuts in spending for the poor, the disabled and on education are common as revenues decline in states across America. But little noticed along with the hand-wringing, as David Cay Johnston points out, are enormous benefits being given to rich corporations.

A devastating commentary on basic American news reporting
COMMENTARY | December 13, 2010
David Cay Johnston writes that beat reporting in America is crumbling and he cites “cheap news”--that is, stories and beats covered on the cheap--as a main reason. Johnston’s comments appear in the Winter 2010 issue of Nieman Reports, most of which is devoted to beat reporting.

Tax favors, IBM, and the murder of Vernon Hunter
COMMENTARY | March 03, 2010
David Cay Johnston examines how a 1986 tax favor for IBM led a Texas man to crash his plane into an IRS office building 24 years later. He sees an early warning sign of deep trouble in America, rooted in Congress's abuse of its power to tax.

Ten questions to ask Joe Biden
ASK THIS | October 24, 2008
David Cay Johnston writes that reporters haven’t sufficiently explored Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden’s relationship with banks, despite his going into ever more debt as he ages, his reliance on the banking industry for contributions, and his actions on their behalf in the 2005 bankruptcy law and other legislation.

Ten questions to ask Sarah Palin
ASK THIS | October 23, 2008
Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's personal finances, and those of the city and state that she has run, have received little scrutiny from reporters, writes David Cay Johnston. Obvious issues have not been examined, including two items on her 2006 and 2007 tax returns that suggest the Palins cheated on their federal income taxes.

Don’t buy the bailout hype
ASK THIS | September 23, 2008
David Cay Johnston writes that the administration has scared the markets and some key legislative leaders -- but it has not laid out a coherent, specific and compelling need for its enormous $700 billion bailout proposal. He poses several tough, key questions that remain unanswered.

Two income tax systems, separate and unequal
ASK THIS | August 11, 2008
David Cay Johnston analyzes new IRS data and find that wage-earners pay taxes on virtually all their income -- but business owners, investors and farmers don't. So what will the presidential candidates do about it?

Whatever happened to Article 1, Section 8?
ASK THIS | April 03, 2006
A New York Times reporter wonders if Congress has forgotten its powers, and why the press isn't asking.

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