Anti-War Activists Refuse to Pay Phone Tax

During the Vietnam War, resistance to the federal excise tax on telephone service was very popular in the anti-war movement, including the campus peace movement. Here are some newspaper articles from that period.

From The Cornell Daily Sun, :

Ithacans Spurn Tax In Protest of War

Ithacans who have been refusing to pay their federal telephone tax in protesting the Vietnam war have so far escaped tax free.

“A lot of people are doing this across the country,” said Natalie P. Kent, who suggested withholding the tax at a meeting of the recently formed Tompkins County Peace Association.

The federal tax, which is listed on the itemized bill, was originally three per cent and scheduled to be abolished. In it was raised to 10 per cent, specifically to help finance the war in Vietnam.

Protesters deduct either seven or ten percent taxes from their payments and enclose a letter to the telephone company explaining why they are not paying the full bill.

The telephone company acts only as a billing agency in collecting the federal tax. When an incomplete payment accompanied by an explanatory letter is received, the company reports it to the Internal Revenue Service, said D.J. Martin, manager of the New York Telephone Company.

Since the bills are confidential, no estimate of how many people are refusing to pay is available. The protest action is not coordinated by any organization.

Prof. Carol L. Marks, English, said that the tax withholding, like any protest, is “more for the private satisfaction of the people involved,” because the significance lies in the mind of the person who’s doing it.” [sic]

She subtracts the tax from her bill every month out of habit, and does not expect the government to take action to collect the taxes because “its not worth it.”

Information on such tax refusal is sent to regional Internal Revenue Service offices in Buffalo.

“Sooner or later they (the protesters) will be contacted to collect the tax,” said an Internal Revenue spokesman.

“Now which of you refuses to pay taxes headed for the military and which refuses to pay taxes in support of the swollen welfare bureaucracy?”

From the Watertown Daily Times, :

War Protesters Balk on Paying Telephone Taxes

 Americans looking for a cheap and safe way to protest the war in Vietnam are refusing to pay the federal excise tax on their telephone bills, the Internal Revenue service said today.

But the IRS usually collects the money after all. Last week it issued new rules aimed at speeding up the collection process by cutting out time consuming hearings on war protest cases.

So far, nobody has gone to jail over the telephone tax protests, and IRS officials doubt if they ever will because, as one spokesman explained:

“These people generally only do it once or twice and then start paying again, so the money held back is never great enough to warrant criminal action.”

The bargain-basement method of dissent has been operating around the nation for the past 15 months, according to the IRS. But the number of citizens involved is less than 4,000 once-a-month protesters.

The approach is made to order for the timid soul who wants to clear his conscience over a burning issue but doesn’t want any risk involved.

It’s cheap: The 10 per cent tax on a monthly phone bill is rarely more than a dollar or two, so there aren’t any fines or costly bail bonds to pay.

It’s safe: No getting trampled in crowds.

And best of all, the telephone service continues without interruption as long as the rest of the bill is paid.

The IRS explained that the phone tax is levied against the customer but is collected by the company. So, as long as the service charge is paid, the phone stays connected. All the company does is notify the IRS when a customer pays all but the tax on a bill.

From the Utica Daily Press, :

Must Pay Phone Tax

IRS Dials “No” on Refusal

Persons who refuse to pay the federal excise tax on telephone service during the Moratorium demonstrations could have the tax deducted from their earnings or bank account, according to the Utica office of the Internal Revenue Service. In addition: they could be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to five years or both.

The Utica Moratorium Committee plans to hand out leaflets in front of the New York Telephone Company’s office building at 270 Genesee Street. The leaflets will urge telephone customers not to pay the federal excise tax which is included in their telephone bills, the Moratorium Committee claims that the excise tax is used to further “the war machine” and says persons refusing to pay cannot be prosecuted.

A spokesman for the IRS yesterday quoted Section 6331 of the IRS Code, entitled Levy and Distraint.

“If any person liable to pay any tax neglects or refuses to pay the same within 10 days after notice and demand, it shall be lawful for the Secretary of the Treasury or his delegate to collect such tax and such further sum as should be sufficient to cover the expenses of the levy by a levy upon all property (except such property as is exempt under Section 6334) belonging to such person.”

Punishment for non-payment is covered in Section 7201 of the same code:

“Any person who willfully attempts, in any manner to evade this title or payment shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, be guilty of a felony and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years or both, together with the costs of prosecution.”

The Moratorium Committee decided at its meeting to picket the Internal Revenue Service in addition to passing out leaflets in front of the Telephone Company.

From The Cornell Daily Sun, :

Cornell Mobe Committee Endorses Tax Resistance

The Cornell Vietnam Mobilization Committee has stated that it “endorses tax resistance as a protest to the continuing war in Vietnam and urges people to refuse to pay the federal telephone excise tax which was levied expressly and retained to help finance the Vietnam War.”

According to the committee’s statement, “The Vietnam Moratorium Committee, The New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, Clergy and Laymen Concerned,” and several other groups “are working together with the War Tax Resistance to build the largest tax movement possible.”

The War Tax Resisters will hold workshops on tax resistance during the America is Hard to Find Weekend at 10, 11 and noon Saturday and at 11 a.m. Sunday in the Willard Straight Kimball Room, said the statement.

Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. and 45 other members of the Cornell University staff and their wives have “declared their intention to refuse payment of the federal excise tax on their telephone bills as a gesture of protest against our government’s policy in Vietnam.”

“To refuse to pay the federal excise tax one merely deducts the amount from the telephone bill and sends a note with his bill explaining the action,” according to the Cornell Mobilization statement. The telephone company has made assurances that phone service will not be interrupted, the statement said.

The Internal Revenue Service sends a bill after three months to a person refusing to pay the tax. After one more contact, “the IRS attempts to seek out a bank account or salary check from which they can deduct the unpaid amount plus 6 per cent interest, said the committee.

One who “willfully fails to pay” the phone tax could be charged with a misdemeanor under the Internal Revenue Code.

From The Harvard Crimson, :

Tax Resisters Hold Phone Tax Protest

by Jeremy S. Bluhm

A group of about 70 young and old people joined in a quiet lunch-hour march to New England Telephone and Telegraph’s Boston offices to protest the use of phone taxes to support the war.

At the phone company, they paid their phone bills-minus the tax. The tax money, which totaled $112, was presented to Marces Muncis, a New England representative of the United Farm Workers. The Farm Workers will use the money to help support a clinic in Delanos, California.

The money was collected in a helmet which symbolized the 101 Americans who died in Southeast Asia during the past week. The marchers obtained this figure-which represents the highest toll in five-and-a-half months-from the Record American on the way to New England Tel and Tel.

The Roxbury War Tax Scholarship Fund and the Boston Tax Resistance organized the “tax march.” The Roxbury group, which is about three years old, now has about $25,500 in unpaid income and phone taxes in its accounts. The principle is held in escrow, but the interest is donated regularly to community projects. In , the Roxbury fund gave $354 to the Storefront Learning Center in Boston.

Boston Tax Resistance, a newer group, has collected about $2500 in unpaid phone taxes.

The Internal Revenue Service now collects about one-and-a-half billion dollars annually through the phone tax, which was instituted to provide funds for the war.

“It seems like a small thing when it’s tacked on your phone bill, but this [the $142] shows that it really adds up,” a woman from Boston Tax Resistance said at the phone company rally .

From The Harvard Crimson, :

Group Asks Phone-Tax Resistance

by Micrael S. Feldberg

A group of peace activists is calling on Harvard students and Faculty to risk imprisonment and fines by not paying the Federal excise tax on long distance telephone calls in protest against the Indochina war.

Calling itself TaxPax, the group is circulating a petition which urges members of the Harvard community to refuse to pay the tax, which the group calls “born in war, and regressive in effect.”

The Harvard Indochina Teach-in Committee is also endorsing the tax strike, and two Faculty members — Everett I. Mendelsohn, professor of the History of Science, and Herbert C. Kelman, Richard Clarke Cabot professor of Social Ethics — will be circulating similar petitions among the Faculty.

“This tax on phone calls raises money directly for the war,” James Henry , one of the organizers of TaxPax, said . “It was raised from three to ten per cent in at the peak of the escalation of the war, and even Mills [Congressman Wilbur B. Mills (D-Ark.), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee] has said that the money is for the war.”

TaxPax organizers estimate the tax raises $1.4 billion annually.

According to Henry, people who refuse to pay this tax are liable to a one year jail sentence as well as a $10,000 fine. In addition, they could be charged with attempting “to evade or defeat” the phone tax, which carries a penalty of five years imprisonment.

“So far,” Henry said, “the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) hasn’t prosecuted anyone over the phone tax. What they’ve been doing is levying a lien on the person’s bank account to get the money. They don’t want to put people in jail, they just want the money.”

Henry estimates that following up on tax evaders costs the IRS $400 per case, in addition to adding a lot of paperwork and confusion to the system.

A spokesman for the IRS seemed less than concerned about the proposed tax resistance.

“We respond the same way to people who evade the phone tax as to all other tax delinquents,” Edward Callanan, Public Information Officer of the Boston IRS said . “We send a bill to the person who hasn’t paid the tax, and if we don’t hear from him in another month we send another bill. If he still doesn’t pay, then we’ll take the money from his bank account or any other personal assets.”

TaxPax is following the example of the Boston War Tax Resistance League, a group which has been active for over a year collecting money that would have gone to phone taxes. The group has raised over $25,000 which has gone to community action projects.

From The Harvard Crimson, :

1150 to Withhold Phone Tax As Indochina War Protest

About 1150 Harvard and Radcliffe students have signed an agreement to withhold payment of the tax on their phone bills as a protest against the Indochina war.

TaxPax, an organization of Harvard students and faculty members, started circulating a petition to withhold the phone tax . The petition included the stipulation that the names of the signers would not be made public until 1000 people had signed it. That number was reached on .

Everett I. Mendelsohn, professor of the History of Science, and Herbert C. Kelman, Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, plan to solicit similar commitments from faculty members.

Mendelsohn is now drafting a letter which he will send to some 800 members of the Faculty urging them to withhold their phone tax.

TaxPax and similar organizations, including the Boston War Tax Resistance League, oppose the tax on long distance phone calls because its revenues finance the Vietnam war.

“The tax on phone calls makes money directly for the war,” said James S. Henry , one of the TaxPax organizers. TaxPax organizers estimate that the phone tax raises some $1.4 billion annually.

Although refusal to pay the tax can result in imprisonment and fines, the Internal Revenue Service normally gets the money by attaching the delinquent taxpayer’s bank account. Henry said that this method of tax collection is being challenged in the courts.

TaxPax will also encourage the resisters to contribute the tax money to antiwar or community groups such as day care centers. And TaxPax founders may try to get people who signed the agreement to participate in non-violent activity in Washington, D.C. this spring.

From the Daily Illini, :

Linked to Vietnam war

Phone tax boycott called

by Gary Raether
Daily Illini Staff Writer

War Tax Resistance (WTR) is calling for a boycott of the ten per cent federal telephone excise tax as a means of protesting the war in Viet Nam.

“It is clear,” said Rep. Wilbur Mills, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, “that Vietnam and only the Vietnam operation makes this bill necessary.”

War Tax Resistance sees the refusal to pay this “war tax” as means of showing the government that people are willing to break the law in their opposition to the war. It also creates “a thorny collection problem for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS),” according to WTR.

Life Funds

According to Robert Calvert of the New York headquarters “People’s Life Funds” are being created around the country for people to send the money they would normally pay in telephone excise taxes to.

Refusal to pay the telephone tax is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of up to $10,000.

According to Calvert, nobody has yet been arrested for open tax resistance. “The government is not willing to publicize it because it may spread.”

Service stop?

The telephone companies as a rule do not interrupt the service of a tax resister if the rest of the phone bill is paid. They merely contact the IRS and leave it up to them to collect the tax.

The IRS then contacts the resister by mail with a demand for the unpaid amount and may pay him a visit. The IRS will finally seek out a bank account of or payroll check from which to deduct the amount, plus up to six per cent interest.

From The Cornell Daily Sun, :

Cornell Mobe Sponsors Protest Against Federal Telephone Tax

By Maia Licker

In order to publicly demonstrate resistance to the Federal telephone tax that was instituted to fund the Vietnam war, the Cornell Mobe is sponsoring a demonstration at the Ithaca office of the Telephone Company and at Southside House, a local community center.

People who refuse to pay “the war tax” are urged to assemble at at the telephone company office, at 208 E. Buffalo St. The plan then calls for a march from the telephone office to Southside House, at 305 S. Plane St., where demonstrators will be asked to donate the money they withheld from their phone bills.

According to Douglas Kenyon, the money will be donated to Southside’s Early Childhood Development program, as a demonstration that “people want their money to be used for the development of children here, not the destruction of children in Vietnam.”

“This act compels the participants to examine their own depth of commitment to help to end this war.”

According to war resistance organizations in New York City, people who refuse to pay the tax could possibly be charged with a misdemeanor, under Section 7203 of the Internal Revenue Code. They could be imprisoned up to a year and fined up to $10,000.

However, experiences of people who have refused to pay the tax indicate that the government does not press criminal charges in these cases.

For example, Carl Kukkonen, a Mobe member who has not paid the tax in over a year, stated that the IRS has not threatened him with criminal charges, nor has his telephone service been cut off. Kukkonen said that he received letters from the IRS, which threatened to “seize property” if he did not pay the $4.32 plus a 13 cents interest charge they claimed he owned them. About a year after he stopped paying the tax, the IRS deducted that amount from his bank account.

From The Cornell Daily Sun, :

Demonstrators Voice Protests Of Phone Tax

“This is one way to make our point to the government in the most basic terms, and that means money,” said Prof. James Matlack, English, after a War Tax Resistance demonstration at the Ithaca telephone company office .

After meeting at the telephone company office on Buffalo Street, 13 tax resisters marched to Southside Community Center where they donated $62 that they withheld from their telephone bills.

The contribution represented the 10 per cent phone tax that was levied to help finance the Vietnam war.

The sum withheld was donated to the Southside Day Care and Child Development program, in order to demonstrate the belief that tax revenues needed for health and education programs are instead being spent on war.

“We insist that funds be spent for growth, nurture and healing, not for maiming and destruction — spent for life instead of death,” wrote Matlack in a letter to the Internal Revenue Service.

According to Section 7203 of the Internal Revenue Code, people who refuse to pay the tax could possibly be imprisoned up to one year and fined up to $10,000. The telephone company is not responsible for enforcing tax payment and will not discontinue service.

Tax resistance demonstrations similar to ’s protest are scheduled to be held once a month.

From The Cornell Daily Sun, :

Group Protests Fed Excise Tax

A group of Ithaca residents plans to gather in front of the New York Telephone Company to protest the war in Indochina.

The members of the Telephone War Refusal Group are opposed to the use of the 10 per cent Federal excise tax, which they content is used to support the war. They plan to give the tax money instead to Ithaca’s Southside Community Center.

At the Telephone Company offices, the group members plan to pay their telephone bill minus the excise tax. They will then walk over to the Community Center to donate the tax money.

The group issued a statement to the Internal Revenue Service to explain its actions.

It said, “To show our opposition to the U.S. involvement in Indochina, we are refusing to pay the Federal excise tax levied on our telephone bills to supply revenues to continue the war… Instead of supporting death, we choose to support life and growth.”

From the Columbia Missourian, :

War Protest Diverts Telephone Excise Tax To “Alternate” Causes

By Candy Louis
Missourian Staff Writer

Protesters of the Vietnam War who are refusing to pay their telephone excise tax are sadly misinformed about their efforts, Jerry West, Internal Revenue collector says. If they wanted to stop paying taxes on the war they would have to stop eating, buying sugar, and driving a car. And those who have refused to pay are sorry because of the complications involved when the Internal Revenue Service receives the case for collection.

Not so say coordinators of the Columbia War Tax Resistance. Refusing to pay the telephone tax is an easy and viable protest method because the telephone excise tax was specifically increased from 3 to 10 per percent to pay for the strain caused by the Vietnam War. The Internal Revenue Service may attach a bank account or salary check for the unpaid amount plus 6 per cent interest but the time and money involved in the collection far outweighs the money that would be involved in non-payment of the tax.

David Bray, one of the local organizers, suggests that all money ordinarily paid to the excise tax be channeled to an “alternative fund,” a program that uses tax money to finance grants to community groups sponsoring such programs as day-care centers, drug abuse programs, or doctors working with Vietnamese children injured by the war.

The movement is not purely local: it has groups in 179 centers and alternative fund programs in 23 cities. The importance of the program, Bray says, is its symbolic value. Tax funds are being used to directly benefit the people. He cites the historic tradition of American protest against taxes in the Revolutionary War, specifically the Boston Tea Party and the Stamp Act Rebellion.

Telephone company officials act only as collectors for the government, alerting them if a subscriber has refused to pay his excise tax. They cannot discontinue service as long as a customer’s service bill is paid. A case sent to a federal court in Mississippi was settled in favor of the defendant and service was restored.

Richard Randall, Columbia office manager for the General Telephone Co., says the local office forwards all refusals to pay tax to its home office in Grinnell, Iowa. From there these letters are sent to the Internal Revenue Service and followup begins.

Bray says the general policy of the telephone company has been to send out a letter saying that you have refused to pay your tax and do you want to reconsider — a type of second chance letter. After this, the refusals are forwarded.

West and Larry Schreiber of the Internal Revenue Service say that the money going for the war from excise tax wont won’t even begin to pay for the expenses involved. They point out that only 8 cents of every tax dollar represents excise tax and of that amount 37 per cent goes for the war while 63 per cent is channeled into health, education, and welfare. West says “Every time someone tells me he is refusing to pay his excise tax in protest of the war, I tell him he is taking food away from a hungry child.”

The 720 Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return lists the following services as covered by excise tax: Toll telephone service, teletypewriter exchange service, local telephone service, transportation of persons and property by air, use of international air travel facilities, policies issued by foreign insurers, the manufacture of pistols and revolvers, truck, bus, and trailer chassis and bodies, tractors, auto chassis and bodies, parts or accessories for trucks, fishing rods and artificial lures, firearms, shells, and cartridges, sugar, diesel fuel and special motor fuels, gasoline, lubricating oil, tires, inner tubes, tread rubber, and fuel used in non-commercial aviation.

All this money goes into one pot and it is impossible to determine what money is channeled for which program, West says.

In some cases, Bray says, IRS officers have tried to auction off a subscriber’s car to get the non-paid telephone excise tax money but the publicity has caused more harm than good. Friends buy the car and then get their money back after the IRS has subtracted the amount of the unpaid bill.

Money collected by alternate programs in Boston and Philadelphia is in the $25,000 and $50,000 range. Payments are being made off the interest collected on the money. All money is channeled into a local bank and donors receive a receipt for their contributions. All participants have a say in deciding to whom the money is granted.

Locally, organizers hope to be able to make a sizable contribution to a group by , the deadline for filing ’s income tax returns. They have established offices in the Help Yourself Center, 915 East Broadway.

And, as proof of their beliefs, they quote Rep. Wilbur Mills, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, “that Vietnam and only the Vietnam operation makes this bill necessary.” (Congressional Record .)