Donald Trump: STAR Exemption and Tax Returns

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Donald Trump critics on the right and left have been hectoring the candidate to do what every POTUS hopeful in recent history has done – release some tax returns. There’s no law requiring that he do so, but it’s a tradition and Trump’s rejection of it raises questions about transparency and what it is that he’s hiding. 

While Trump once claimed he wouldn’t release his tax returns while they are the subject matter of a current IRS audit, he has now flipped, and says he will never release them under any circumstances. Many commentators speculate that his tax returns might reveal some shady business dealings with, say, Russian oligarchs. But they won’t – that’s not it.

The real issue, I believe, goes back to a curious item that got only passing attention, but deserves more scrutiny. Donald Trump was the recipient of a middle-class tax exemption here in New York known as “STAR”. It’s reserved for people earning under $500,000 per year, and it acts to exempt some of the assessed value of a person’s primary residence from school taxes. Trump’s campaign spokeswoman said Trump would refund an amount equal to the STAR exemption, claiming it was all an “error”. But it was applied again in 2016, reducing the taxable valuation of Trump’s 5th Avenue condo by about $2300, saving him about $300 on his property tax bill. 

Obviously, it’s comical to quibble over a self-described billionaire receiving a break of $300 against a $200,000 property tax bill. However, the STAR exemption could not have been made in “error”; it is not automatic. An eligible middle-class homeowner must affirmatively apply to receive a STAR exemption. To qualify for STAR, an applicant’s total household income, including that of his or her spouse, cannot exceed $500,000. More specifically, it must be an applicant’s total federal adjusted gross income. At least with the current form, the applicant must prove that he meets that income requirement by appending a copy of the tax returns for all members of the household to the STAR application form

A STAR exemption cannot be the result of error or inadvertence – it must be applied for and approved. This can only mean that Donald and Melania Trump’s adjusted gross income for federal tax purposes was less than $500,000, and Trump’s tax returns would reflect that fact. It would also detail all of the various tax avoidance schemes this putative billionaire uses to lower his adjusted gross income to such a low figure. In other words, it would reveal an effective tax rate of a single digit percentile; possibly less than 1%. 

This would be embarrassing to Trump by revealing how he manipulates a tax system that is designed specifically to help high earners do avoid paying taxes; that he is as elitist as they come, and that he pays far less of a percentage of his income in taxes than we normal people. 

Put simply, were Donald Trump to release his taxes, they’d show that he lives a billionaire’s lifestyle while paying the income taxes of a surgeon. For a guy whose entire persona is based around dominance, success, and wealth, this would be damning and embarrassing. Donald Trump applied for the middle class STAR exemption, and he provided the documentation needed for approval. He can’t release his taxes because it would put the lie to everything he purports to stand for. 

#DemsinPhilly Sketchbook Day 3


Our man in Philly, Marquil from EmpireWire, puts pen to paper at the DNC for day three. Follow him at @EmpireWireNY

Breakfast speeches began with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown reading a long list of thank yous.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY 10th District) meets the press.

Featured breakfast speaker, Senator Charles Schumer.

NY Democratic Party Chair Basil Smikle opens the morning lineup of speakers.

Tuesday’s featured speaker, Senator Gillibrand followed Senator Sanders

Governor Cuomo arrived at breakfast plus one.

After sustained applause from his supporters in the room Bernie Sanders reiterated his support for Hillary Clinton.

Democrats Need to Boycott WBEN


Not just boycott advertisers, but prominent Democrats need to stop appearing on its air. They lend legitimacy and help WBEN pretend it maintains news objectivity despite being not a news station, but a mouthpiece for the Trump campaign and the local Republican establishment. 

Here are a selection of DNC-related Tweets by WBEN’s official Twitter account, which – until this week – generally gave update on breaking news, traffic, and weather. It always kept editorializing and opinions off its Twitter account, seeing as it has 21 hours of every broadcast day already devoted to virulent right-wing hate speech, like the time operations director Tim Wenger wished he could throw shoes at Hillary Clinton (link)

Also, for fun, here’s how they reacted to a local newspaper going out of business, leaving creditors unpaid and talented people in the same industry jobless: 

I guess it’s not easy for media outlets not supported by massive national public corporations. 

Meanwhile, last week in Cleveland, there was wall-to-wall coverage of their God-Emperor Donald Trump. No fewer than two on-air personalities were on hand to broadcast remotely from Cleveland, and the guy who runs the station was there, too. 

WBEN’s remote broadcasts from Cleveland were underwritten in large part by Carl Paladino’s company. 

Query whether WBEN was there as a media outlet to cover a news event, or an active participant, helping to spread RNC propaganda to our corner of New York State. It’s not just that the tone of their coverage of the RNC ranged from neutral story-telling to overt Trump support, as evidenced by the anti-Cruz flurry of Tweets (below), but note the absence of even one live-tweeted critique or fact-check of any RNC speaker or speech, unlike what’s happening during the DNC from their Twitter account. It speaks volumes that no one from WBEN has deigned to travel to Philadelphia to cover the DNC in a way even remotely comparable to the slathering of pro-Trump honey they offered last week. Allow me to adopt some of the language of the Trump neo-nazi/alt-right fan base. 

Emperor-God party is AWN.

Verbatim regurgitation of Emperor-God’s favored cuck. 

Bespectacled man interviews Trump cuck. 

Interesting use of homophones here. 

Emperor-God flyby. 

Emperor-God lands magnificently. 

Emperor-God snubbed. 


Bespectacled man loses spectacles, interviews party boss. 

Blink once if you need immediate law enforcement intervention, bespectacled man. 

Thumbs up for the Republican Party’s official organ!

God-Emperor’s cuck checks phone. 

Cool, man. 


Emperor-God holds party congress. 

Such Balloons. 

Such Balloons, separate tweet. 

If you’re a Zellner or a Poloncarz or any other elected official or candidate with a (D) after your name, or if you consider yourself a progressive member of any other political party, know that WBEN has become little more than a safe space for local supporters of the Trump campaign. No proposal is too wild for them to blindly retweet. No expression of fear or hatred is too much for them to take to Twitter and deride with a childish “ummmm….” Understand that when you appear on WBEN, you are helping them maintain the sheen of impartiality, objectivity, and respectability on which they rely during the 3 nominally straight hours of daily programming. It’s the part that enables them to call themselves “Newsradio”.  But while it clearly is “radio”, it’s no longer “news” when it petulantly heckles one side while obsequiously doing another’s bidding. I’m frankly surprised they don’t just tag “#thanksObama” whenever they Tweet about anything from a terrorist attack to a traffic tie-up. 

WBEN’s social media has become a wholly-owned extension of the Republican Party, and every time anyone left-of-center appears on its airwaves, they help to perpetuate a fraudulent facade of objectivity that long ago ceased to exist. It was evident when WBEN sponsored an anti-SAFE Act rally in Albany. It was evident here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and when WBEN regularly enables overt local racists to pollute its social media.  It’s evident now more than ever before, and the fact that they endure zero consequences from it emboldens them to do it more and more. 

#DemsinPhilly Sketchbook Day 2

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Our man in Philly, Marquil from, with some images from his sketchbook at the DNC. Follow him on Twitter at @EmpireWireNY

Thanks to a Senator from Vermont, a younger more colorful crowd of delegates shows up for credentials.

NYS DNC Delegate at breakfast gathering.

At the credential distribution, Bernie Sanders delegates shared a range of opinions (and an occasional manifesto) on the leaked DNC emails and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Congressman Charles Rangel (NY 13th District) makes a point after the breakfast had dispersed.

WBEN Drops the Pretense of Objectivity


They sent their marquee pm talker to Cleveland and at least one reporter to Cleveland to cover the Republican National Convention. 

No one went to Philadelphia. 

With the general exception of the three hours of straight morning news, WBEN spends the remaining twenty-one hours of every day deriding anything they label progressive (they prefer “regressive”), and heaping hatred, scorn, and derision on anyone with a (D) after their name, and anything that they might believe or opinion they hold. 

Last night I watched Bill Clinton give a truly unique speech where he told essentially a folksy story about his life together with Hillary Clinton, and the work she’s done, and things she’s accomplished. It was a speech only he could have given, and he delivered it in a truly compelling way. It was a reminder of what a powerful communicator he could be, and why people liked his Presidency so much. He also argued that Republicans were running against a cartoon that is two-dimensional, and completely manufactured. 

On Twitter, meanwhile, WBEN’s official Twitter account posted this: 

No. No, that’s not how a putative news outlet is supposed to act or behave. If you want to have Bauerle or Sandy Beach say dumb, biased stuff like this: 

That’s all well and good, if that’s the image you want to convey. But the News station’s Twitter account – call it common sense, call it best practices – should be impartial. If Tim Wenger or one of his hires wants to snark away on Bill Clinton during the Democratic National Convention, knock yourselves out.

But re-tweeting the local Republican county chair? 

Because of this this completely naked station-wide bias, it’s time for Democrats to boycott this station; perhaps all local Entercom stations. Why feed their ratings? Why make money for them? They’re so deeply in the tank for Donald Trump, let them pimp him all they want – without our help

Why give them the satisfaction of playing make-believe about impartiality or objectivity during those paltry three hours where they at least make an effort to pretend. Anything less at this point is to reward the fact that WBEN isn’t our station. They aren’t our people. It has a clear and palpable bias, and everyone from Ken Kruly to Bruce Fisher to Bruce Bryski to Jeremy Zellner to Mark Poloncarz should stop returning their calls, stop calling in, stop appearing, and stop having anything to do with WBEN until it treats Democrats like human beings. Geoff Kelly – stop going on Hardline. 

For whoever was running that WBEN Twitter feed last night, you sure as hell didn’t similarly lob bombs at anyone who spoke in Cleveland last week, and it is unconscionable for you to casually accuse Democrats of allowing Americans to die in Benghazi on Tuesday night and then inviting them on your licensed airwaves Wednesday morning. It’s the same blood libel as accusing Democrats of “banning” US flags at the DNC (a lie)…

…or that the flags weren’t properly displayed (they were), or that Democrats are unpatriotic or willing to essentially murder our diplomats or intelligence agents (a lie).

After a week in Ohio filled with fear and hatred, it is so refreshing to watch a convention filled with gratitude and hope. WBEN can heckle like a drunk at a comedy club, but it can’t change the truth. 

#DemsinPhilly Sketchbook Day 1

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Our man in Philadelphia, Marquil from EmpireWire, reflects on the first day of the DNC. 

A protest march from Philadelphia’s City Hall to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall along Market Street passed in front of New York’s delegation to the Democratic Party convention

Uncle Sam on stilts addresses onlookers and the media on Independence National Historic Park on the eve of the DNC nominating convention.

Protester at Independence Nationals Historic Park carries a large puppet head of Mohandas Gandhi.

Rally participants brought homemade signs focused primarily on environmental concerns.

The Russian Provocation


Last week, thousands of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee were released on Wikileaks. They were the fruit of a targeted hack perpetrated by Russians working for Putin’s KGB successor, the FSB. There is clear direct and circumstantial evidence that this is a targeted attack on Hillary Clinton and the Democrats by Putin’s Russia – a spy agency with nuclear weapons masquerading as a state. The drop in oil prices over the past few years has done incalculable damage to an authoritarian Russia dependent on oil revenue for its oligarchs’ wealth and obsequiousness. If Obama had anything to do with it, it’s the best anti-Putin provocation our government has been able to pull off. 

This piece from Josh Marshall pulls together the pieces of direct and circumstantial evidence to confirm that the Trump campaign is, at worst, a client of Putin’s Russia. Russian capital has supported numerous recent Trump projects. Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked closely with Putin ally, former Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovich, now living in exile in – where else? Russia. Yanukovich’s exile led to a Russian war in eastern Ukraine and the Russian theft of the Crimean peninsula.

When it came time for the RNC to develop its 2016 platform, Trump’s campaign didn’t get involved and didn’t much care, except on one point – changing the platform to take out any language about militarily helping the Ukrainians in their ongoing battle against Russian irregular forces. The Trump campaign literally re-wrote the Republican position on that in a way that benefits Putin’s Russia. 

Putin is, ultimately, a spy and the head of a mafia.  His Russia can’t beat the west economically or with technology, so the way to restore Russian pride is to bring back a lot of behavior from the Soviet days. Repression, belligerence, territorial expansion. Regardless of the content of the DNC emails now out there (imagine if your personal and confidential intercompany emails were released to the whole world), much of which included the donor information and credit card numbers – all of it unredacted – every American should be denouncing such a clear foreign attempt to influence an election and doxing of innocent donors. 

Incidentally, there exists no evidence in the DNC email dump of any “rigging” of the election against Bernie Sanders. This was DNC personnel jawboning ideas. Nothing happened. 

It would be, at a basic level, nice if CIA hackers could get into emails and run a Wikileaks copycat with an Australian rapist figurehead Russian agent living in exile in a Latin American embassy. But ultimately, beware the authenticity of what Wikileaksa wholly owned subsidiary of Russia’s intelligence services – releases in the future. It will undoubtedly be doing more to try and influence this election, and everyone seems to blindly accept the authenticity of what they release. What I’m worried about is the day that they act as an outlet for FSB disinformation.

Mazurek’s Financials: A Sloppy Illegal Mess


Democratic candidate for the 143th Assembly District, Kristy Mazurek, filed her campaign financials almost a week too late. Neither she nor her campaign offered a credible excuse for this delay, which is evidence either of design or negligence. 

You may recall that this person is a cooperating witness into a wide state and federal probe into disgraced political operative Steve Pigeon’s dealings over the years.  This particular Assembly district has seen its last two representatives leave office in a prurient disgrace, and it’s safe to say that ethics and public integrity in Albany are big issues for voters this year. 

The campaign finance illegality of Mazurek’s zombie committee, the “WNY Progressive Caucus” (AwfulPAC), has been well-documented, and it’s safe to say that its record of impropriety was not by accident, but by design. It was set up as the 2013 iteraton of the perennial Pigeoning effort; a shady conduit for Pigeon’s dirty money to be funnelled, sub rosa when possible, against candidates endorsed by Democratic Headquarters. It was the point of entry for the May 2015 Preetsmas raids which led to the MIchalek conviction, the Pigeon indictment, and whatever more might come down that pike. 

Being targeted and interrogated by state and federal law enforcement is enough to spook anyone into modifying their behavior, right? As far as anyone knows, Mazurek remains the treasurer of AwfulPAC. Is it proper or legal for a current candidate for office to also be in charge of a disgraced zombie PAC? 

Let’s take a look at the Mazurek campaign’s filings. 

It bears mentioning here that Mazurek did not set up her campaign committee with the state until July 14th – the day before the first financial disclosure came due. This is illegal. Almost all of it is illegal. 

Election Law §14-100(7) states that you’ve become a candidate when you start circulating nominating petitions or receive contributions/spend money in furtherance of your candidacy. A “contribution” can be anything of value, under Election Law §14-100(9). 

Mazurek started campaigning over a month before she filed as a candidate with the Board of Election. She received and spent money even though she hadn’t registered herself or her committee. She announced her candidacy on Facebook on May 26th,

and held a campaign kick-off at a bar on June 8th.

She is seen in photographs circulating petitions and handing out palm cards as early as June 20th. She is seen in images on Facebook marching in a July 4th parade with a banner, campaign shirts, and other items. 

Mazurek herself began collecting petition signatures on June 7th, and it appears from the BOE filings that Frank Max’s Progressive Democrats of WNY paid people to circulate petitions on her behalf in June and July. Shouldn’t her campaign disclose that spending on her behalf as an in-kind contribution? How does a campaign allow another committee to circulate petitions without coordination? 

So, Mazurek has been an active candidate since late May/early June, but didn’t file until July 14th. The image above shows that she collected money from people for a non-existent candidacy in violation of Election Law §14-118(1), which requires that, “No officer, member or agent of any political committee shall receive any receipt, transfer or contribution, or make any expenditure or incur any liability until the committee shall have chosen a treasurer and depository and filed their names in accordance with this subdivision.”

So, it’s perhaps no accident that Mazurek failed and refused to file her financial disclosures until they were five days late – after Democratic Headquarters and the media began asking questions. She received the contributions shown above, but also reported these pre-July 14th in-kind contributions: 

And expenses: 

These, too, are illegal. 

Election Law §4-118 states that “no candidate, political committee, or agent thereof may receive from any one person an aggregate amount greater than one hundred dollars except in the form of a check, draft or other instrument payable to the candidate, political committee or treasurer and signed or endorsed by the donor . . . .” But Mazurek reveals cash contributions in excess of the $100 limit from her father and her campaign manager. She also paid $500 cash to a band to play for her during the July 4th parade.  Under EL §14-118, “no candidate or political committee shall expend an amount in excess of one hundred dollars except by check drawn on the depository and signed by the candidate or person authorized to sign checks by him or in the case of a political committee, the treasurer or a person authorized to sign checks by him.”  

Two late filings. Seven line items; four of them apparently illegal. Hundreds in petition expenses not disclosed. In this scandal-plagued district, in this scandal-plagued state, this is fundamentally irresponsible. 

Paladino Taunts Cruz


Carl Paladino, a prominent locally reputed racist and backer of neo-fascist nominee Donald Trump, sent this image Thursday to his broad email list.


Here’s a question, 

Why “mow the lawn”? 

#RNCinCLE Sketchpad Day 4

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Our man in Cleveland, Marquil from, sends us his sketchpad from the last day of the Republican party congress and precatory pogrom. 

Senator Ted Cruz’s stage dive into the arms of the NY delegation.

Thursday: Rudy Giuliani recounts for New York’s delegation the misbehaviors of Hillary and Bill Clinton.

Congressman Peter King barbecues Texas Senator Ted Cruz for the NY delegation’s final convention breakfast.

New York press corps showing signs of convention fatigue.

Police, police, and still more police.

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