Florida GOP Attacks Crist with Misleading Claims About the IRS and Police

President Joe Biden and Democrat Charlie Crist have said that they don’t support calls from some activists to defund the police. And a law that both men supported provides funding for the IRS to potentially hire tens of thousands of new employees — most of whom would work in customer service, not tax auditing, bureau officials have said.

But an anti-Crist ad from the Republican Party of Florida makes two distorted claims: that Crist and Biden “teamed up” to “hire 87,000 new IRS agents to audit the middle class,” and that Crist “supported Biden’s agenda to defund the police.”

Biden and Crist have said that some financial resources for police could be redirected to social and mental health workers, but neither man has an agenda to completely defund law enforcement or drastically cut police budgets, as the ad could lead viewers to believe. Also, the IRS has said that any new auditors or “agents” that are hired will focus on scrutinizing the tax returns of individuals and businesses with very high incomes — not the “middle-class.”

The Republican Party of Florida released the ad on Aug. 24 and said it’s a “significant and sustained statewide tv and digital advertising campaign.” A Spanish-language version is scheduled to run in the Miami, Tampa and Orlando media markets, the party said. 

Crist resigned his House seat on Aug. 31 and will focus on his gubernatorial race this fall against Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (We also published a story about Crist ads attacking DeSantis. See “Crist Ads Misrepresent DeSantis Statements on Abortion and Background Checks on Guns.”)

IRS Hires

First, we’ll quickly address the mostly false claim about new IRS “agents,” which we’ve covered before.

The Inflation Reduction Act, which Crist voted for, and Biden signed into law last month, includes roughly $79 billion for the IRS over 10 years. IRS and Treasury Department officials have said some of the money will go to hiring new employees, potentially as many as 87,000, most of whom will replace outgoing staff and will be on the customer service side of the IRS, doing tasks such as upgrading computer systems and answering phones.

Furthermore, however many new “agents” or tax enforcers are hired, which would be a minority of the positions, administration officials say those employees will focus on auditing the tax filings of high-income individuals and businesses — not “middle-class” workers, as the Florida GOP ad says.

“These resources are absolutely not about increasing audit scrutiny on small businesses or middle-income Americans,” IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig wrote in an Aug. 4 letter to congressional lawmakers. “As we’ve been planning, our investment of these enforcement resources is designed around the Department of the Treasury’s directive that audit rates will not rise relative to recent years for households making under $400,000.” 

In an Aug. 25 letter to two House Republicans, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Inflation Reduction Act will increase IRS revenues by $180.4 billion over 10 years. A “small fraction of the total increase” will come from taxpayers earning less than $400,000, in part because of increased voluntary compliance by taxpayers and collection rates returning to historical levels.

A Treasury spokesperson told us that budget cuts over the last decade resulted in the IRS, a bureau within the department, losing 40% of its “complex revenue agents” — agents who handle complicated tax returns of large businesses and corporations and go after high-end tax evaders.

No ‘Defund the Police’ Agenda

In addition, Crist and Biden have not said they want to defund the police, the controversial concept of completely eliminating or significantly reducing police budgets.

“I don’t support defunding the police,” Crist said in a late March interview with Our Tallahassee Publisher Bob Lotane. “I support good officers who work each and every day to uphold the duty of their post. And importantly, I support offering all the necessary funding and resources needed to ensure police officers undergo the proper training and screenings that will weed out bad actors who aren’t worthy of protecting their communities.” 

And Biden has said repeatedly that he opposes defunding the police, including in a recent speech about his Safer America Plan, which calls for spending $35 billion on law enforcement and anti-crime initiatives, including more than $10 billion for state and local agencies to hire 100,000 additional police officers. 

“When it comes to public safety in this nation, the answer is not ‘defund the police,’ it’s ‘fund the police,’” Biden said in Aug. 30 remarks in Pennsylvania.

To back up its misleading claim that Crist “supports Biden’s agenda to defund the police,” the Republican ad cites remarks Biden made in September 2021, about negotiations on a bill to overhaul policing practices. The ad also uses a short clip of Crist saying “it’s reallocation” in a May virtual meeting with community organizers in Florida.

In his remarks last year, Biden talked about his support for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is named after the man whose 2020 murder by a Minneapolis police officer sparked nationwide protests about police brutality and led to calls from some critics to defund the police.

Crist voted for the bill, which passed in the House but went nowhere in the Senate. He said he supported the bill to help and improve law enforcement.

But the legislation doesn’t mention defunding the police. Instead, among other things, it would impose new police training and data reporting requirements, which could cost intergovernmental agencies millions of dollars to implement, according to a CBO estimate. Some of the bill’s Republican opponents argued it would “defund the police” by putting extra pressure on police budgets.

However, those additional costs don’t necessarily mean that police departments would have their budgets cut, as the phrase “defund the police” suggests.

As for Crist’s comment in the ad about “reallocation,” he was responding to a community leader’s question about redirecting some resources for officers to other forms of public safety. He was not talking about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

“There’s been marches and, you know, really demands, people are using the term ‘defund the police,’ and we know that has its own connotation. It’s more so about reallocation of resources into programming that supports, you know, other methods of public safety, other methods of crime prevention,” Brother John Muhammad, the co-founder and executive director of Community Development & Training Center, says in a fuller video clip the Florida Republican Party posted to YouTube. 

Muhammad continued: “I want to ask you about defunding the police, but reallocating resources similar to what Chief Holloway did, where he’s created this community program that will answer calls and dispatch, you know, mental health and social workers, as opposed to, you know, uniformed officers from some of those calls. What are your thoughts on that?”

In response, Crist said: “I support exactly what the chief is doing. And it isn’t defunding, you’re correct about that. It’s reallocation and making a balance to the approach.”

Crist and Muhammad were talking about St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway, who, in July 2020, along with then-Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, announced a plan to start a program within the Police Department where social workers, instead of police officers, would respond to calls to police about nonviolent incidents.

The Community Assistance and Life Liaison program — which is a partnership between the Police Department and the community services nonprofit Gulf Coast JFCS — originally was going to be paid for with $3.8 million in funding that the city had budgeted to match a $3.1 million federal grant that would fund 25 additional police officers. The matching funds were required in order to receive the grant.

But Holloway said the city would reject the federal grant and use the matching funds to pay for the CALL program over multiple years. A Republican Party of Florida website argues that the reallocation of funding intended to add police officers “is, literally, an example of defunding police.”

However, that’s not what ultimately happened.

Ken Knight, a public information specialist for the Police Department, told us in an email that the St. Petersburg City Council decided to accept the federal grant, match it and also fund the new liaison program.

“We did both,” he wrote. “We launched CALL and continued with plans to hire additional officers.”

As a result, the Police Department’s budget increased from about $116.8 million in fiscal year 2021 to $124.9 million in fiscal year 2022.

So the city’s police were not defunded, nor was the money for the CALL program reallocated outside of the department.

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