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Franken to pay $70,000 in back taxes

Al Franken
Minnesota Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken says his accountant made a mistake in not understanding the law and the obligation to pay state taxes.Ann Heisenfelt / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Senate candidate Al Franken, dogged by accusations that he failed to file tax returns in California, said Tuesday he will pay about $70,000 in back income taxes in 17 states dating to 2003.

Most of the income at issue was from speeches and other paid appearances by the comedian-turned candidate, who said he got bad advice from his accountant but takes responsibility for the errors.

The Minnesota Democrat told The Associated Press that he and his wife, Franni, "paid taxes on every cent of income we ever had." He said that during the years in question, he followed the accountant's advice and paid his entire income tax bill to the city and state where he lived at the time. He lived in New York City from 2003-05 and Minnesota in 2006.

"What happened is our accountant made a mistake, and all of these are repercussions of that same mistake," said Franken. "His mistake was not understanding the law, the obligation to pay these state taxes."

Franken said his finances became more complicated when he branched out from "Saturday Night Live" and started writing books and making speeches around the country.

His communications director, Andy Barr, said none of the 17 states attempted to contact Franken or his accountant seeking the unpaid personal income taxes.

Franken said once the payments to the states are settled, he would seek retroactive credit from his states of residence since much of the income taxes he paid to them was supposed to go instead to the 17 other states.

Franken has been preparing for a tough fight against incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., but his campaign has been sidetracked in recent weeks by bookkeeping errors related to his private corporation, Alan Franken Inc.

The campaign said last month it would pay a $25,000 fine to the state of New York for failure to carry workers' compensation insurance there.

The state Republican Party swiftly issued a statement in which it said Franken's "admission that he has violated laws in 17 different states since 2003 is only the beginning of the story."

Party chairman Ron Carey said Franken's business activities "must have a full, and complete public airing if he is to retain any credibility as a candidate for public office."

In a conference call with reporters, Coleman called Franken's admission troubling. "Paying taxes is an obligation that I think Minnesotans expect to be adhered to, and that Minnesotans do," Coleman said.

Franken said he's releasing the information to be transparent about his mistakes. He said he "would like to get back to talking about the lives of the people of Minnesota and the issues this campaign is about."