Spin Doctors Downplay Vietnam War Tax Resistance

Here’s an interesting case of government spin in the war tax resistance game. The peak of modern American war tax resistance came around when large numbers of people were resisting, including prominent and well-known people, and were being very public about their resistance. The government paid close attention to the tax resistance movement in those days and took steps to counter it. This article looks as though it was one of those attempts.

The data behind the article are these: the IRS said that it had tallied up 1,740 people who had formally told the agency in that they would be resisting taxes as a war protest. Of those, by the agency had initiated its delinquent account process against 631, indicating that they actually hadn’t paid some of their taxes and the gears of the agency’s slow-grinding machine had started to move.

That could mean that the remaining 1,109 chickened out at the last minute. But it could also mean a number of other things:

  • Maybe some of that 1,109 refused to file a return at all as their form of protest.
  • Maybe some lowered their income below the tax line as their form of protest.
  • Maybe some used techniques such as claiming the population of Indochina as dependents that had the effect of lowering the tax due and the IRS just hadn’t gotten around to inspecting their returns closely enough yet.
  • Maybe in some cases the IRS just hadn’t gotten around to registering the delinquencies yet because it was only a month after tax returns were due.

And of course the “few thousand Americans” the article speaks of only includes those people who managed to get on the IRS list in the first place. Most war tax resisters didn’t bother to write the IRS to let them know about their plans.

But the headline and lede spin for the article only contemplate the chickening-out angle and only count those war tax resisters whom the IRS counted (from the Tri City Herald):

Most war protesters fail to carry out tax threats

In publicly declaring her refusal to pay income taxes that support the Vietnam war, Sen. Philip A. Hart’s wife joins a few thousand other Americans, most of whom failed to carry out their threats.

Most of those who challenged the Internal Revenue Service lost their cases.

Figures for income-tax returns showed that 1,740 Americans indicated to the IRS they would not pay any taxes because of the war.

But a spokesman said tax-delinquent accounts have been set up in only 631 of these cases, meaning that the IRS is taking formal action to collect for nonpayment.

In previous years, the number of Americans who have protested to the IRS has grown. Last year, there were 1,648 who told the IRS they didn’t intend to pay taxes, but the agency was forced to collect in 698 cases.

In , 1,401 protested, but only 368 drew formal action by IRS. In , there were 592 who protested and 140 tax-delinquent accounts.

“The numbers are tiny when you consider there were an average of 75 million returns over those years,” the spokesman said.

Today’s figures only take into account those, such as Mrs. Hart, who have formally protested to the IRS. The spokesman acknowledged that those who use more-subtle means to escape paying taxes in protest might not be detected if they didn’t let the service know.

Folk singer Joan Baez announced in she didn’t intend to pay that part of her income taxes related to the military budget. But the government collected from her bank accounts through court action.

A common form of protest is refusal to pay the federal telephone excise tax, but no figures were immediately available on these. It is said to be small in relation to the number of telephone customers.

Mrs. Hart wrote the IRS that she was refusing to include a check for $6,200 with her quarterly tax estimate.

According to an IRS spokesman, if an estimated tax payment is not paid, a six-per-cent penalty applies. But the IRS waits until the return for the year is filed to assess penalties or take action.

Mrs. Hart said she put the money into a special bank account instead of paying it to the IRS