Tax Resister “Alternative Funds”

The folks at NWTRCC are working on a set of pages meant to help people who want to start an “alternative fund” — a way for tax resisters to pool the amounts they are refusing to pay to the government, in order to increase the effectiveness and sustainability of their resistance.

In harmony with that effort, here are some excerpts from my 99 Tactics of Successful Tax Resistance Campaigns concerning alternative funds and similar tactics:

hold resisters’ property in others’ names

A common government gambit in its battle against tax resisters is to say “if you won’t pay taxes ‘voluntarily,’ we’ll seize your property instead.”

Some tax resisters have responded to this by taunting back: “you’ll have to find it first.” One way they have made good on this is by arranging for other people to hold the resisters’ property in their names.

For example, some war tax resistance “alternative funds,” into which resisters pay their taxes rather than submitting them to the government, have a dual purpose: they redirect tax money to causes the resisters find more palatable than government expenses (see “redirect resisted taxes to charity”), and they form a fund that, although it is not officially in their names, resisters can later reclaim if the government succeeds in seizing taxes from them.

Ammon Hennacy

The tax collector was so frustrated in trying to seize anything at all from tax resister Ammon Hennacy that, when Hennacy was picketing the IRS office one day, the agent assigned to his case walked up to him and seized his picket sign—telling him he planned to auction it off! The next day, Hennacy was picketing again with some new signs that he and a friend had hastily made the night before… each one carefully marked “this sign is the personal property of Joseph Craigmyle.”1

The Tithe War

In the Irish Tithe War, sympathetic farmers would give temporary pasturage to the livestock of resisters when seizures were impending:

An organised system of confederacy, whereby signals were, for miles around, recognised and answered, started into latent vitality. True Irish “winks” were exchanged; and when the rector, at the head of a detachment of police, military, bailiffs, clerks, and auctioneers, would make his descent on the lands of the peasantry, he found the cattle removed, and one or two grinning countenances occupying their place. A search was, of course, instituted, and often days were consumed in prosecuting it.2

American Quakers

In 1983 the Friends General Conference put an ad in the Friends Journal that encouraged Quakers to give interest-free loans to the Conference as a way to “reduce their income taxes while retaining financial security for themselves and their families.” In essence: the Conference would collect any interest on the funds as a donation, and in return it would hold the donor’s assets in a way that was non-reportable to the IRS, while being willing to return the principal to the donor on 30-days’ notice.3

  1. Hennacy, Ammon “My First Fast and Picketing” We Won’t Pay: A Tax Resistance Reader (2008) p. 385
  2. Fitzpatrick, William John The Life, Times, and Correspondence of the Right Rev. Dr. Doyle, Vol. Ⅱ (1862) pp. 47–8
  3. “Give Money Without Giving Your Money Away” (ad) Friends Journal 15 March 1983, p. 21

redirect resisted taxes to charity

Governments spend a lot of time and energy—and enlist a host of political scientists and pundits and other such clergy—to try to convince their subjects that paying taxes is not only mandatory, but that it’s honorable, dignified, and even charitable, while failure to pay taxes is underhanded, shady, and selfish.

Governments and other critics of tax resistance are quick to deploy this already-available propaganda lexicon in their counterattacks. They criticize tax resisters as freeloaders who enjoy the benefits of organized society without cooperating in the taxes necessary to fund them—as self-interested, anti-social tax evaders.

One way resisters have countered this attack is by staging giveaways of their resisted taxes. This makes it clear that the resisters do not have merely selfish motives for resisting, and also demonstrates that the money is being spent for the benefit of society (to a greater extent than if the money had been filtered through the government first).4

This sort of tax redirection also can forge or strengthen ties between the resisters and the recipients, and can make more people aware of tax resistance as an option.

War tax resisters

This tactic is put to particularly good use by the contemporary war tax resistance movement. Here are some examples:

When Julia “Butterfly” Hill refused to pay more than $150,000 in taxes to the U.S. government in 2003, she made a point of saying “I ‘redirect’ my taxes rather than ‘resisting’ my taxes”:

I actually take the money that the IRS says goes to them and I give it to the places where our taxes should be going. And in my letter to the IRS I said: “I’m not refusing to pay my taxes. I’m actually paying them but I’m paying them where they belong because you refuse to do so.” They are not directing our money where it should be going, they are being horrific stewards of that money.5

NWTRCC organized what it called the “War Tax Boycott” in 2008. It encouraged war tax resisters across the country to coordinate by redirecting their refused taxes to either of two groups: one that provided healthcare in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and one that helped Iraq War refugees. The campaign kept track of how much money had been redirected over the course of the boycott, and then held a press conference to give oversized checks adding up to about $325,000 to spokespeople for these campaigns.6

The People’s Life Fund is associated with the group Northern California War Tax Resistance, and holds redirected taxes from resisters. If the IRS successfully seizes money from a resister, that resister can reclaim his or her deposits to the Fund. Otherwise, the money remains there and earns interest and dividends. Every year the group pools these returns on investment and gives them away to local charitable organizations in a granting ceremony. Usually these grants are modest—$500 or $1,000 each—but they give them to a dozen or more groups, which makes their granting ceremonies a good way for local charities to network with each other and helps the word about war tax resistance spread in the local activist community. This same model, or one similar to it, is followed by a number of regional redirection funds associated with war tax resistance groups in the United States.

A war tax resistance group in Iowa used the proceeds from its redirection fund to create a scholarship for college students who had been banned from applying for government financial aid because of their refusal to register for the draft. Another, in Pennsylvania, made an interest-free loan to a legal defense group that was supporting a group of draft resisters who were on trial.7 These actions helped to forge or sustain ties between the war tax resistance movement and anti-conscription activists and gave war tax resistance a higher profile in the larger anti-war movement.

One family figured out a way to get extra mileage out of their redirection: In 1997 they redirected their refused federal taxes to a charitable program called “Childreach.” That year, the U.S. Agency for International Development, a federal government agency, had promised to match private donations to Childreach two-to-one from its budget, so the family’s $211.69 in redirected taxes had the effect of pulling an additional $423.38 from the U.S. government for a good cause.8

A man holds an oversized check for $1,000 made out to “Anti-Racist Alliance of N.Y.C.” from Conscience & Military Tax Campaign

war tax resister Bill Ramsey redirects $1,000 to charity in a granting ceremony

In 1968, war tax resister Irving Hogan stood outside the Federal Building in San Francisco and redirected his federal income tax dollars one at a time by handing them out to passers by. “I want this money to be used for the delight, not the destruction, of men,” he said. “Here: go buy yourself a beer.”9

John and Pat Schwiebert did something similar: They redirected their taxes by handing out five-dollar bills to people standing in line at the unemployment office. Along with the bills, they handed out letters in which they explained their redirection action. To amplify the public relations impact, they notified the media of their plans ahead of time. “Their actions garnered them an interview on NPR,” according to one report, “and they received letters and cards from around the world.”10

In 1972 a group of war tax resisters in New York redirected their war taxes as nickels that they handed out to people waiting at the bus stops on lines where fare hikes were being proposed, saying “this is where our tax dollars should be going.”11

Arthur Evans felt that if redirecting your war taxes to charity was a good idea, redirecting twice your war taxes to charity must be twice as good. In 1965 he wrote to the IRS to tell them “I am sending double the amount I am not paying for war to Quaker House at the United Nations for transmission to the United Nations Organization for its technical assistance program.”12

In the early 1970s, farmers who were resisting the expansion of a military base onto their land in Larzac, France, found common cause with war tax resisters. Thousands of war tax resisters there redirected their war taxes to help fund the Larzac struggle.13

And here’s something kind of similar that doesn’t fit into any of my other categories, so I’ll toss it in here: When the IRS seized back taxes from war tax resister Mary Regan’s retirement account in 1998, she threw a fund-raising party to try to raise an equivalent amount of money—but not in order to reimburse her, but to give away to charities like “the Boston Women’s Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Friends Service Committee, a homeless shelter for youth, and the peace movement in Israel.”14

British women’s suffrage movement

The Women’s Tax Resistance League largely suspended its campaign during World War , but one woman, signing her letter “A Persistent Tax Resister” wrote to the editor of a suffragist paper to suggest that women should redirect their taxes from the government to a privately-run war relief charity “and should send her donation as ‘Taxes withheld from the Government by a voteless woman.’ ” Suffrage activist Charlotte Despard reported that “she had offered to give voluntarily the amount demanded of her by Revenue authorities to any war charity, but her offer had not been accepted.”15

Social Security foe

In 1952, Howard Pennington, unwilling to pay an $81 social security tax “for waste by socialistic dreamers,” instead sent that money directly to George Robinett. Robinett was a 72-year-old retiree whose social security had been abruptly cut off for three months, costing him $210, because during one month he had earned 62 cents above the $50 maximum monthly earnings for a social security recipient.16

put your taxes in an escrow account in lieu of payment

Another way some resisters and resistance campaigns have tried to defuse the attack that makes them out to be anti-social misers is by paying their taxes into escrow accounts.

When resisters use this tactic, instead of paying taxes to the government, they deposit the money into a special account and say they’re willing to relinquish it to the government at a future date if the government meets certain conditions. The message conveyed by this is that “we will pay our share of money for the government’s upkeep—we’re not just keeping the money for ourselves—but we’re not going to let the government have the money until it shapes up.”

For example, the Purchase Quarterly Meeting of Quakers set up something it called the “Peace Tax Escrow Account” into which war tax resisters could deposit their refused taxes. The Meeting said it would turn this account over to the government if the government were to give taxpayers a way to pay such taxes without paying for the military functions of government.

The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Quakers lost a court battle in which the IRS hoped to force them to withhold taxes from a war tax resisting employee. The Meeting then began withholding the taxes as ordered, but rather than submitting the money to the IRS, the Meeting put it into an escrow account and told the agency it would have to seize the money.17 The London Yearly Meeting also put resisted taxes from 25 war tax resisting employees of the Friends House in an escrow account—“the intention being to release it to Inland Revenue after assurances that it would be used for non-military purposes.”18

In 2006, the Chamber of Commerce in Tijuana, Mexico led a business tax strike to protest against inadequate security during a crime wave there. The group brought in accounting consultants to help them establish an escrow account, in the hopes that such a gesture would discourage the government from classifying the member businesses as tax delinquents.19

This tactic can be used by individuals as well as groups. For example, in 2011 Markus Zwicklbauer, a 58-year-old tax consultant from Fürstenzell, Germany, began paying his taxes into an escrow account which he says he will release to the government only if the government can show him to his satisfaction that it will be spent for the benefit of German citizens and not wasted on bailouts of other eurozone nations.20

  1. When I presented some of my ideas about varieties of tax resisters (see “Varieties of Tax Resister” on page 5) at the Spring 2013 NWTRCC national conference, some of those who heard my presentation suggested to me that a fifth variety of war tax resisters are primarily motivated by the desire to spend their money for the public good, and that they resist taxes because they see taxation as obstructing this aim, and careful tax redirection to be a much better way of accomplishing it. It’s worth noting that while redirection is a powerful tool for public relations, to its practitioners, it is usually much more than this.
  2. Smith, Gar “An Interview with Julia Butterfly Hill: Part 1” The Edge 26 May 2005
  3. Hanrahan, Clare “War Tax Boycott Redirection” More Than a Paycheck June 2008, p. 1
  4. “Scholarships for draft evaders” Utica Sunday Observer-Dispatch 6 May 1984 p. 4A; “ ‘War tax’ resisters provide loan” Delaware County Daily Times 5 February 1973, p. 4
  5. “Matching Funds” More Than a Paycheck October 1997
  6. “ ‘War’ Tax Resister Gives Joy To Some” (United Press International) Binghamton Press 16 April 1968, p. 12A
  7. Balzer, Susan “NWTRCC Strategy Conference” More Than a Paycheck December 2005, p. 1
  8. Squire, DeCourcy “Journeys Begin with the First Step” More Than a Paycheck August 2009, p. 1
  9. Evans, Arthur “A Quaker Physician’s Tax Stand” Friends Journal 15 August 1965, p. 411
  10. Simpson, Craig “An International View” Friends Journal 15 February 1976, pp. 111–12
  11. WTR Matches IRS Levy for Good Causes” More Than a Paycheck February 2009
  12. “Tax Resistance” The Vote 11 September 1914, p. 311; “Meeting at the Women’s Freedom League Headquarters” The Vote 9 February 1917, p. 109
  13. “Money Owed U.S. Given To Oldster” (Chicago Tribune Service) The Spokesman-Review 13 March 1952, p. 1
  14. “I.R.S. Sues Quaker Group” New York Times 27 July 2003
  15. “World of Friends” Friends Journal 15 November 1982, pp. 24–25
  16. Corpus, Aline “Retendrá la Canaco impuestos en Tijuana” El Norte 22 September 2006
  17. Wilhelm, Hannah “German Taxpayer Won’t Pay Up If His Money Goes to Greece” Suddeutsche Zeitung 26 September 2011