Your Rights: Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em

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Who wants to hassle with the IRS. Of course it’s a pain in the behind dealing with an agency that ranges from bullying to inefficient to inconsistent in following their own procedures. But, if we want to make a statement about refusing to pay for war, hassles come with the territory and are actually the least of the risks that a resister could face. So I was distressed to read the warning in the last issue of NWTRCC’s
newsletter about sending a letter with tax forms which might lead to hassles with the IRS. In a rare success for this form of resistance, we won for the right to send those letters expressing our beliefs, complaints, and reasons for refusal.

Let’s not give up our rights of protest! In the fall of 2011, this information was submitted as a “systemic problem” through a form on the Taxpayer Advocate Service Systemic Advocacy Management System (SAMS):

Submission From: Taxpayer

Location: NY

Email Address*: rbenn…

Issue Summary: improper frivolous penalties

Issue Detail Description: The IRS Campus at Ogden, Utah, is incorrectly assessing $5,000 frivolous return penalties. The $5,000 penalty has been assessed on more than one individual when the IRS has accepted their calculations on the filed return as correct. The fine is being used to infringe on the free speech rights of individual taxpayers who are not attempting to evade taxes but who send a letter of protest about how the money is spent. The tax code on frivolous submissions does not cover a letter enclosed with a tax return when the return itself is filled out correctly for that individual with no extra messages written on the form and no reason to question the numbers on the return.

An analyst in the Taxpayer Advocate’s office took up the issue and pursued an investigation over the course of more than a year. She was referred to war tax resisters in the NWTRCC network who had received a $5,000 frivolous penalty, including some who had paid it or had the money seized from their bank accounts.

In April 2013 we received word that the Office of the Chief Counsel at the IRS would issue a memo and order retraining of the Utah-based staff to prevent issuing frivolous penalties because a letter is enclosed with a tax return. The memo was released officially in August 2013 concluding:

When the taxpayer timely files a correct and complete return, the section 6702 penalty should not be assessed based solely on the fact that the taxpayer enclosed a letter with the return explaining why the taxpayer is not paying the self-assessed tax due.  If a penalty has been assessed, it should be abated.  (Read the full memo here)

This rare success for WTRs even resulted in the return of the seized penalties for those resisters! (“Better Late Than Never: A Frivolous Filing Success Story”)

NWTRCC network members hold a banner reading “We support Acts of Conscience NOT TAXES FOR WAR” at the rally against NATO in Chicago, May 2012.

I am sympathetic to the recent cases of resisters who had to hassle with the IRS for months or years before the issue was cleared in their favor, but I am also grateful to them for fighting the IRS. We have the right to send our letters to a government agency, and we need to make sure that the IRS workers are reminded that we can do that without penalty. NWTRCC has a webpage on the Frivolous Fine that includes this history and tips for responding to the IRS.

At the moment I can’t help thinking beyond these bureaucratic hassles to the protests against the coup in Burma. I’m just in awe of the ongoing civil disobedience actions in the face of sweeping arrests and shoot-to-kill orders. It is humbling. I ask myself what would I do in that situation? Even the worst-case-scenario risk of my tax refusal seems minor (if stressful) in comparison.

— Ruth Benn

One thought on “Your Rights: Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em”

  1. Sue Barnhart says:

    Thanks Ruth. Great blog. I once got a notice of frivolous return fine for $5000. It got my heart beating fast but I called the IRS and a worker agreed it should not be levied. Yup a hassle but also an opportunity to educate

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