Good News in a “Frivolous Filing” Battle with I.R.S.

I mentioned in my wrap-up of ’s NWTRCC gathering in Eugene that “One couple who were first-time resisters and had only refused to pay a token $50 last year were assessed ‘frivolous filing’ penalties of $5,000 — each, even though they had filed a single return jointly — though they had filled out their return accurately and completely.”

I’m happy to report that this couple came home from Eugene to some good news:

…for those of you who heard of the couple who got slapped with $10,000 frivolous fine ($5,000 each) it was just lifted. Apparently the Taxpayer Advocate Office helped. For those of you who don’t know, this was a first-time resistance of a small amount of a larger tax bill. Honest return filed with a protest letter and partial payment. The filers were warned they might get a fine, so they re-filed and paid the amount refused a few months later and shortly after got a letter telling them they each owed $5,000 as a frivolous penalty. They protested and finally heard this quite unjustly applied fine was released. Whew. We’ll try to add more on the NWTRCC website about this frivolous business as we learn it. It appears to be applied very inconsistently and incorrectly.

That’s from NWTRCC coordinator Ruth Benn. The current distilled wisdom from NWTRCC on “frivolous filing” warnings and penalties can be found at its page on “What To Do If You Receive a ‘Frivolous’ Warning Letter”.

During World War Ⅱ, the U.S. income tax expanded its reach. Formerly a tax that targeted the well-to-do, it became a tax on income-earners in general. In order to help this go smoothly, the government enlisted popular entertainers to create pro-tax propaganda.

I’ve already mentioned here The Spirit of , a Disney cartoon that told citizens that “Taxes Will Sock the Axis.”

Today David Beito reminds us of another bit of this propaganda campaign. A song penned by Irving Berlin and sung by Danny Kaye: “I Paid My Income Tax Today.” Some sample lyrics:

I paid my income tax today
I never felt so proud before
To be right there with the millions more
Who paid their income tax today
I’m squared up with the U.S.A.
See those bombers in the sky?
Rockefeller helped to build ’em, so did I
I paid my income tax today

I paid my income tax today
A thousand planes to bomb Berlin
They’ll all be paid for and I chipped in
That certainly makes me feel okay
Ten thousand more and that ain’t hay
We must pay for this war somehow
Uncle Sam was worried but he isn’t now
I paid my income tax today

And that reminds me of this. The first evidence I’ve seen of a foul-weather war tax resister deciding to give it up at the first hint of sunshine. Obama’s not even in office yet, and already…

I’m Paying Taxes Now

Do you know how long I’ve been waiting to say that?

I’m paying taxes this year.

Barack Obama has just been called as the next President of the United States.

This war tax resister is going to pay her taxes for the first time in six years. I can’t wait. I love this country, and at this exact second, I feel that love. I will write my check with a happy heart. I can’t wait to introduce my daughter to our new President.

Sigh. In Eugene some people feared the possibility of this sort of reaction, but nobody seemed to know of any actual examples of it. Well, there’s at least one.

Today in the U.S., war tax resisters are about the only sizable group of conscientious tax resisters (that is, people who resist in a spirit of conscientious objection to what the tax money is spent on — as opposed to people who resist because they think they have the legal or moral right not to have their money taken from them, and those who resist not because of any ideology but just because they think they can get away with it and the material benefit is worth the risk).

But this may be changing. This year I’ve been noticing a lot more mention of tax resistance in two other battles: the battle for legal recognition of same-sex marriage and the battle against (government funded) abortion.

In the same-sex marriage case, it’s less a conscientious objection position than one that says the resister won’t pay the “dues of citizenship” for what amounts to second-class citizenship. But that’s close enough for me.

In the abortion case, the rhetoric is much more similar to that of the war tax resistance movement. Indeed, a Catholic anti-abortion tax resistance pamphlet I recently discovered on-line has a subtitle — “Are You Praying for Life But Paying for Death?” — that echoes a motto frequently heard in war tax resistance circles.

The rest of the pamphlet also seems very familiar to me, based on war tax resistance arguments (particularly Christian ones) I’ve read. There’s the attempt to thread the needle between Romans 13 and Acts 5, a discussion of how taxpaying makes a taxpayer complicit and why this makes conscientious objection a moral duty, and finally some advice on practical steps the reader can take.

Myself, I’m of the “the more, the merrier” school on this. The more people with diverse ideologies and concerns begin to consider tax resistance as an option, the more the idea can take root that in general it’s inappropriate to force people to pay for other people’s priorities.