I.R.S. Seeking More Publicity for Its Criminal Enforcement Activities

TIGTA has released a new report on IRS criminal enforcement activities in .

In summary:

In , although the percentage of tax-related subject investigations initiated and the percentage of direct investigative time applied to tax-related subject investigations increased, several key performance measures showed decreases from . For example, the number of subject investigations initiated decreased 8.5 percent, the number of subject investigations in open inventory decreased 5.8 percent, the number of subject investigations referred for prosecution decreased 4.9 percent, the number of subjects convicted of a crime decreased 6.1 percent, and the number of subjects sentenced for a crime decreased 3.6 percent.

One of the details that stood out to me was this:

Research suggests that higher levels of criminal sentences lead to higher tax compliance.… ¶ In an effort to ensure voluntary compliance, the function changed its philosophy to allow for more publicity of its tax investigations. It continues to increase the publicity on tax prosecutions, and the overall publicity rate of 75.6 percent for prosecutions in was an all time high. The 81.3 percent publicity rate for legal source [those crimes involving legal industries and occupations and legally earned income] income tax investigations is also an all time high. This increased exposure indicates the function is receiving media attention and sending the message to taxpayers that violations of the Internal Revenue Code and related financial crimes are being investigated and prosecuted.

This suggests to me that those tax resisters who are courting or anticipating criminal prosecution would be well-advised to prepare some sort of media strategy ahead of time, knowing that the IRS will certainly be trying to put a loud and attention-grabbing spin on every prosecution. Conscientious tax resisters can get a “free ride” on the IRS’s own publicity department if they plan ahead and use some savvy.

Stephen Douglas Smith of the University of San Diego School of Law has written a paper — Taxes, Conscience, and the Constitution — in which he asserts that, whatever the virtues of conscientious tax resistance, there’s nothing in the Constitution that supports it as some sort of right that the government must respect:

It was often claimed in the founding period — and it is claimed today by jurists like Justice Souter and by scholars like Noah Feldman — that citizens have a right of conscience not to pay taxes that will be used to advance religious teachings which they do not believe. But advocates of this position typically reject the corresponding claim that citizens have a right of conscience not to pay taxes that will be used to advance non-religious (or, in their view, anti-religious) teachings in which they do not believe. Are these positions reconcilable? This essay investigates the question and concludes that they are not. Nor is it a tenable position to hold that conscience is violated by the use of a citizen’s tax dollars to promote any beliefs, religious or non-religious, that particular taxpayers reject. So jurists and scholars would do well to drop the selective and opportunistic appeal to the ostensible connection between taxes and conscience.