California congressman Brad Sherman is in a tough election battle with another incumbent Democrat, Howard Berman, this year in a contest that has drawn national attention to two candidates with hot tempers. Cartoonists have known and despised Sherman for many years, since he was the Chairman of California’s “Board of Equalization” (BOE) which writes regulations governing state taxes. Sherman doesn’t like cartoonists much either, for good reason.
Sherman championed a set of confusing, contradictory and punitive tax laws that punished California’s artists for many years. California charges a sales tax on “tangible” property, but charges no tax on services; in Sherman’s days on the BOE, authors weren’t charged tax on the copyrights to their written works, but artists were charged tax on their copyrights, even though neither was tangible. Newspaper political cartoonists were exempt from the sales tax, but other cartoonists weren’t, except if they wrote the words that appeared in their cartoons themselves, and didn’t have a separate author. The rules were different than the sales tax rules for rights to artwork in all other states, leading to even more confusion, and the regulations were not applied to artwork by big corporations, like Disney; the taxes were randomly imposed only on little, freelance artists.
Sherman took his cartoon frustrations out on a clown – a cartoonist named Rhoda Grossman, who performed at children’s parties, a service that isn’t taxable, except that Rhoda made the mistake of drawing caricatures of the children as a small part of her performance. Sherman and the BOE went after the poor clown for sales tax and penalties on her entire gross income as a performer for the preceding seven years, because of the part of her show that included drawing – a devastating, unexpected, huge, tax bill for poor Rhoda the clown.
Rhoda appealed the tax decision to the BOE, chaired by Sherman, who had been a big supporter of the crazy tax laws imposed against artists and who had just won a race for congress. Sherman moved to Washington, DC and didn’t attend the meeting to hear Rhoda’s plea before the board – he was keeping his salary from the tax board until the last possible day before switching to his new salary from congress, and he cast the deciding vote against Rhoda in absentia, crushing the clown.
Top cartoonists from all across America joined in a campaign to draw unflattering cartoons of Sherman, protesting his longtime support of California’s crazy, inconsistent art tax laws. The National Cartoonists Society had determined that Sherman was the one person most responsible for the ugly tax burden that California artists suffered under. Some of the cartoons that were drawn at that time are displayed here, my favorites are the ones below, by Russell Myers, the cartoonist who draws the comic strip “Broom Hilda.” There were some great ones, inspired by the callous indifference of Sherman, the petty tax bureaucrat.
The cartoonists were disappointed to see Sherman move on to serve more than a decade in congress, but the story actually has a happy ending. Soon after Sherman left the BOE, the tax board voted to reverse their
decision on Rhoda’s case. Then the California Supreme Court overturned Sherman’s regulations taxing the transfer of intangible reproduction rights to artwork. (Sherman had also cast the deciding vote against the tax appeal of artist, Heather Preston, who went on to overturn the regulations in the courts.) California artists were saved from their tax purgatory, no thanks to Sherman.
And we’re left with a legacy of some great, Brad Sherman cartoons!