Bartlett's Bad Judgment


Maryland Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, by refusing to pay Social Security taxes and unemployment insurance for his campaign workers last year, displayed a serious lack of judgment.

The 6th District congressman can blame the Republican National Committee for bad advice all he wants, but as a former employer he should have known better. He and his campaign deliberately avoided payroll taxes that other United States employers regularly pay.

Internal Revenue Services rules are pretty clear on who is an employee and who is not. The tests to determine whether a person is an independent contractor are simple: Does the person work on the employer's premises? Is the person paid a wage or salary rather than by the job? Does the person set his or her work schedule or does the employer? Are ordinary expenses reimbursed? Is the person using tools and materials furnished by the employer? In Mr. Bartlett's case, his campaign workers -- who earned $82,000 -- clearly were employees, not contractors.

Mr. Bartlett, who represents western Howard County and Western Maryland, may believe all tax money is squandered, but taxes also pay for benefits his employees are entitled to have. By not paying the employers' half of the Social Security tax, Mr. Bartlett is forcing his employees to pay that half; he could be reducing the amount of benefits these people are entitled to when they retire. Mr. Bartlett also did not pay any unemployment insurance premiums. Unemployed campaign workers could not have collected unemployment benefits, if needed. Such actions invariably force up premiums for other employers.

Mr. Bartlett's lack of concern for his campaign workers is ironic considering that he made a campaign issue out of opponent Thomas Hattery's own private-sector problems with workmen's compensation. Mr. Bartlett pointed out his Democratic opponent didn't have an up-to-date policy covering workers in his publishing business. Yet according to records, Mr. Bartlett let his workmen's compensation policy lapse two months before the election last fall.

Mr. Bartlett, who takes advantage of every opportunity to denigrate the operations of the federal government, apparently didn't run a very business-like campaign himself. The congressman has not said whether he will pay the back payroll taxes. Mr. Bartlett apparently has to be coerced into following the laws most of us follow voluntarily.

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