Putting Tax Redirection into Practice

Last month the statute of limitations erased another year of my taxes. For the tax year, my 1040 form showed that I owed $1,203 in federal taxes. I didn’t pay, of course, and the IRS has been nagging me about that ever since. But now it’s too late for them, as ten years have expired as they failed to collect.

I celebrated by sending a check for $1,203 to our local food bank program.

(Coincidentally, on the same day I sent the check, I got my $1,200 stimulus check from the U.S. Treasury. I’m not sure how to interpret that, cosmically-like, except that it seemed to rhyme like poetry.)

This is an example of the tax resistance tactic of “redirection.” Here is an excerpt from 99 Tactics of Successful Tax Resistance Campaigns that describes this tactic:

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).

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 , 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.

NWTRCC organized what it called the “War Tax Boycott” in . 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.

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. 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 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.

Bill Ramsey holding an oversized check

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

In , 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.”

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.”

In 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.”

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 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.”

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.

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 , 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.”

British women’s suffrage movement

The Women’s Tax Resistance League largely suspended its campaign during World War Ⅰ, 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.”

Social Security foe

In , 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.