Congress created the ERC in 2020 to reward businesses and nonprofits for keeping employees on payrolls during the pandemic. Three years later, it has turned into a headache for the Internal Revenue Service and a bonanza for firms such as Bottom Line that help clients calculate and claim the tax credit. Bottom Line is one of the largest of dozens of ERC companies clamoring to capitalize on the opportunity.

The ERC is proving far more costly to U.S. taxpayers than expected. The IRS paid more than $150 billion in ERC refunds through early March, and the money is still flowing. Total payments through July could be $220 billion, with another $120 billion in the pipeline, according to a recent Piper Sandler estimate. That would be roughly triple early congressional estimates.

This is from Ruth Simon and Richard Rubin, “Inside a Sales Army Turning a Tax Break Into a Modern-Day Gold Rush,” Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2023.

I get calls once or twice a week telling me that I might qualify for this tax credit. I’m pretty sure I don’t because I don’t have employees.

I thought it was a scam until I read this article. I still think it’s a scam, but I’ve changed the identity of who I think are the scammers. It’s not these people, who are trying to make money telling people about an absurd and expensive government program. The real scammers are the Congress people who voted for it.

One of the people trying to cash in is Kevin O’Leary, aka Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank. I had always liked him, thinking of him as someone who opposes big government on principle.

But no more. It’s one thing to take advantage of a government program. I don’t admire O’Leary for it, but I don’t fault him either.

It’s quite another to advocate extending the government program beyond its current expiration date. And that’s what O’Leary is doing.

“Shark Tank” veteran Kevin O’Leary is Bottom Line’s best-known partner. He promotes the ERC on television, on social media and to Congress, where he has pressed lawmakers to extend the deadline for claiming the ERC for an additional 24 months.

By pushing for extending this handout, O’Leary cannot plausibly be a strong opponent of high government spending.