War Tax Resisters renew call to divert cash

By Paul Glader, The Associated Press
Monday April 15, 2002

IRS seeks to increase penalties for what they deem “frivolous arguments” 


\With tax day approaching, Susan Quinlan hasn’t filed her form 1040 yet and she doesn’t plan to. 

She’s been redirecting her taxes since 1983, when she watched defense spending rise under the Reagan administration. As an anti-war activist, volunteer teacher and single mother of two on a low income, Quinlan objects to paying taxes that fund the nation’s defense budget. 

Quinlan isn’t alone in fending off the Internal Revenue Service. War tax resistance groups exist in nearly every state including California, Missouri and New York. 

“We’re upset that our tax money is funding militarism,” said Larry Harper, a tax resister from Sebastopol. 

Most of the 10,000 or so conscientious tax resisters nationwide send letters to the IRS each year explaining that they are withholding their cash and putting the money into a fund, where it earns interest. Then they donate that interest to what they deem life-affirming, peaceful causes. 

“This is not tax evasion,” said Bill Ramsey of St. Louis, a spokesman for the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. “This is tax refusal and redirection. It’s a public act and an act of conscience.” 

Critics, however, say war tax resisters face no scrutiny to ensure they divert money to peaceful causes and they could take advantage of charity tax credits, already part of the tax system. They also say resisters are selfish because they benefit from government services funded by citizens who do pay taxes. 

“The vast majority of salaried employees file and pay voluntarily,” IRS spokesman Anthony Burke said. “Most Americans I think are law abiding and honest citizens.” 

Quinlan and Harper led a workshop on Friday in Berkeley to recruit new tax resisters. In this war room — or “anti-war room” — they dispensed brochures, information and support to 15 rookies. 

Quinlan said interest in war tax resistance has been piqued since the beginning of the year because of the War in Afghanistan and increased defense spending. The movement started after the Vietnam War and rose again during the Persian Gulf War. 

“I wondered after Sept. 11, if we’d be deluged with people,” Quinlan said. “We weren’t initially. But we are seeing more now.” 

Instead of putting a check in the mail Monday, Quinlan and other Northern California war resisters will have a party and present contributions to alternative charities with $10,000 from interest earned on their diverted tax endowment, which they call the People’s Life Fund. 

Ramsey and 50 resisters in St. Louis have purchased $10,000 in medical equipment to ship to Afghanistan. Outside the IRS office in St. Louis on Monday, they will present the equipment to nurses who will take the supplies to Afghanistan. 

Nearly 29 alternative funds across the country will use $100,000 in interest this year to make grants to battered women’s shelters, homeless programs and AIDS prevention. 

Some conscientious objectors live frugally, work part-time jobs and keep income below certain levels to avoid paying taxes completely. Some refuse to pay any federal taxes, while others send about half of what they owe, figuring that military spending for national defense and veterans benefits makes up half the federal budget. 

David R. Henderson, an economist and fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, says nearly 20 cents of every tax dollar, or 22 percent of the federal budget, goes to military spending. 

“Bless them for doing it,” Henderson says of the resisters. “I don’t do it because I don’t want to go to prison.” 

Like other Americans who refuse to pay taxes for other reasons, war tax resisters believe they are a wily opponent of the bureaucratic behemoth. 

“The IRS likes people to think they are omniscient and will come after you if you don’t pay,” Harper said. “The reality is they don’t.” 

Harper said the IRS took $1,200 from his bank account the first time he resisted in 1982 and has left him alone ever since. Others say the IRS regularly takes money out of their bank accounts and garnishees their wages. 

The IRS sees resisters as tax cheats. Resisters are subject to $500 fines for making “frivolous arguments,” with additional penalties between 25 and 50 percent on the taxes they owe. They can face property liens, garnisheed wages, ruined credit ratings and as much as $100,000 in fines and five years in jail. 

IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti is urging Congress to pass a measure that would increase the current “frivolous submission” fine from $500 to $5,000.