Tags: IRS Scandal

Rev. Al Sharpton: Tax Rebel


Welcome, Reverend Al Sharpton, to a gathering of tax-protest legends that includes Evelyn Gregory, Wesley Snipes, Howard Jarvis, Lauryn Hill, and Tom the Tinker. Some were outlaws, some were lawful. Some gave all, all gave some; but none wanted to give at all. They were Americans who dared to stand against the infinite rapacity of government. Their victories were slight and fleeting; their defeats harsh and punishing. But their names come down to us with honor, and now one of those names is Al Sharpton.

The tale of his millions of dollars in unpaid taxes is, like many things about Sharpton, hair-raising. It would cause MSNBC to cancel Sharpton’s show, were the Lean Forward network inclined to hold its on-air talent to any standards of intellectual honesty or personal bearing. But there can be no doubt: For sheer rebel-yelling, law-nullifying, sovereign-citizen opposition to big government, the tea party (not just what Sharpton calls the “racist and homophobic” modern version but the Boston Harbor originals) has nothing on Al Sharpton.

The author of the 1996 memoir Go Tell Pharaoh and the 2003 presidential campaign trial balloon Al On America tells the New York Times he is working to pay down some of his $4.5 million in state and federal liens for unpaid taxes. There is not much evidence to support this claim (the newspaper points out that his debt to the state of New York has actually increased in recent years), and Sharpton’s apparent attempt to position himself as an unwitting tax rebel just won’t fly. Every tax deadbeat is a de facto tax protester.#ad#

Personal tax shirkers like Sharpton are indeed more direct in their attack on the state than lawful protesters such as Jarvis (creator of California’s 1978 Proposition 13 and spiritual head of the anti-tax movement that was crucial to Ronald Reagan’s election) and Gregory (whose landmark 1935 case Gregory v. Helvering turned on the right to minimize income-tax liability). Law-abiding political and legal foes of excessive taxes (who are included here not to disparage them but to make Sharpton’s Rothbardian view of the state more clear) merely argue for justice. Tax evaders engage in real civil, or criminal, disobedience, attempting to deprive the state of access to their personal property — which (in the state’s view) rightfully belongs to the state.

So Sharpton, a Baptist clergyman who claims to have been first ordained in a Pentecostal church at the age of 10, is not just looking for ways to skate on his public (and less forgivably, private) bills. He is laying claim to a history that includes the original cause of American independence and characters as vivid as Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose 20-year dispute over payments to the federal government flared into an armed standoff in the Silver State this spring. Since before there was a United States of America, Americans have been refusing to give their property to the government.

It is unclear how much pride Sharpton takes in having established his anarcho-capitalist credentials — though with the Rev it’s always smart to assume he feels a great deal of pride about everything he does. The squalid circumstances that the Grey Lady insists on reporting in detail are of a type most grown men would be ashamed to own. Russ Buettner reports how Sharpton faced financial challenges after a court ordered him to pay damages to a government official Sharpton defamed during his Tawana Brawley rape hoax:

He said he did not have enough money to pay all at once, and after years of a slow trickle of money from wage garnishments, Mr. Sharpton was forced to testify under oath about his finances.

He said he had no assets, save for a watch and a ring. Everything else, including some of his suits, was owned by a for-profit business, Revals Communications, he said. He testified that he put nearly all of his $73,000 in take-home pay from the National Action Network into Revals, which in turn paid many of his expenses, including his daughters’ private school tuition and some of the rent on his house. Even though state law prohibits nonprofits from making loans to officers, Mr. Sharpton said National Action Network had also once lent him money to cover his daughters’ tuition.

During the deposition, Mr. Sharpton coyly suggested he was not really sure who owned the Brooklyn house where he lived with his wife and two daughters. “Well, I haven’t checked the deed,” he said.

In fact, Mr. Sharpton knew his landlord, Bishop E. Bernard Jordan, quite well. Mr. Sharpton had performed the wedding ceremony of Mr. Jordan’s daughter at Zoe Ministries, the Upper West Side church where Mr. Jordan is the pastor. Mr. Jordan, who makes millions of dollars a year offering prophecies about his followers, and his wife, Debra, had been among only three couples to give the maximum allowable amount to Mr. Sharpton’s 1997 mayoral campaign, records show.

Where Sharpton’s tax revolt really gets tricky, however, is in his relationship with NBC-Universal. As the host of MSNBC’s PoliticsNation, the Big Apple firebrand is professionally obligated to support a type of redistributionist, big-government politics that won’t sit with principled anti-tax behavior. Fellow tax rebels such as the actor Wesley Snipes (who was already a favorite of small-government movie fans thanks to his portrayal of villain Simon Phoenix in the libertarian classic Demolition Man) have acted consistently with their beliefs. Snipes grounded his refusal to pay income taxes in principles such as Larken Rose’s popular “§ 861” theory and an old idea that the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was not properly ratified. These concepts have never borne legal weight (Snipes was acquitted on all felony charges but still ended up serving two years of a three-year sentence for misdemeanor charges of failing to file a tax return), but adherents seem to be sincere in their beliefs.

Other protesters, such as one-time Fugees front woman Lauryn Hill, have been equally forthright. “I shuddered during sentencing when I kept hearing the term ‘make the IRS whole’ . . . make the IRS whole, knowing that I got into these very circumstances having to deal with the very energies of inequity and resistance that created and perpetuated these savage inequalities,” Hill wrote in 2013. “The entire time, I thought, who has made black people whole?! Who has made recompense for stealing, imposing, lying, murdering, criminalizing the traumatized, taking them against their wills, destroying their homes, dividing their communities, ‘trying’ to steal their destinies, their time, stagnating their development, I could go on and on.”

You can doubt the basis of Snipes’s theories, or dismiss Hill’s insinuation that a phenomenally successful entertainer from above the Mason-Dixon Line is entitled to compensation for historical suffering. Even legitimate anti-tax activists can be questioned. Good-government types make long and articulate arguments that California’s Prop 13 (which capped increases in property taxes) produced anti-libertarian outcomes by favoring the landed classes and centralizing education budgeting in Sacramento. (California voters, on the other hand, like Prop 13 just fine and have consistently voted to expand its protections while defeating all attempts to roll back the law.) Gregory v. Helvering, though it produced a gem of tax wisdom, is also controversial. “Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible,” Judge Learned Hand wrote in a celebrated circuit court ruling. “He is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.” But even this chestnut sticks in the throats of pro-tax zealots who equate the non-crime of “tax avoidance” with the recognized crime of tax evasion and demonize “Benedict Arnold CEOs” for trying to minimize their tax hit.#ad#

All of these arguments proceed from a principle, however; and it appears to be the opposite of any principle MSNBC, or for that matter Sharpton’s National Action Network, stands for. NAN urges members to sign up for the Affordable Care Act and lobbies for increased student-loan subsidies. MSNBC wants government action to destroy mankind’s primary source of energy and has made a long-term campaign of ending wealth inequality — and the network’s preferred means toward that goal don’t appear to include deregulation or ending the Federal Reserve. It is impossible to square any of these positions with not paying your taxes.

The inconsistencies in his position probably won’t hurt Sharpton. His detractors are unlikely to be surprised, while his supporters are immune to evidence against him. An insatiable sponge and grifter who landed in a court battle with his psychic buddy Bishop Jordan and even ended up having “friends” pay the defamation damages he owed, Sharpton isn’t the ideal figurehead for a new tax rebellion either.

Then again, history never gives us perfect heroes, and over the years American tax revolt has frequently mixed real ideological concerns with outright criminality. Leaders of the so-called Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s were probing an important question: whether the Revolution’s tongue-twisting slogan “Taxation without representation is tyranny” was a denunciation of public seizure of private property in most cases or merely an objection to being taxed while having no voice in Parliament. They opposed an excise that predominantly hit small, rustic westerners and was crafted by Alexander Hamilton with a sophistry worthy of Jonathan Gruber — featuring incentives for early compliance, breaks for big distillers and an overarching goal of consolidating and codifying a private industry. They lived in a region where George Washington owned vast tracts of speculative real estate and had a strong incentive both to scatter local owners and to make a public demonstration of federal power.

But they were also a dangerous mob. In his history The Whiskey Rebellion, William Hogeland describes the pseudonymous or composite character Tom the Tinker, a “joyously violent” leader whose primary victims were not federal revenue agents but other distillers tempted to comply with the feds. “You might find a note posted on a tree outside your house, requiring you to publish in the Gazette your hatred of the whiskey tax and your commitment to the cause; otherwise, the note promised, your still would be mended,” Hogeland writes. “Tom had a macabre sense of humor and a literary bent: ‘mended’ meant shot full of holes or burned.” In his own published writings Tom “was always sorry to have been forced, by someone’s waywardness, to pay a visit. But nobody was exempt from his service, he reminded his readers. He asked his victims to imagine his fires making the hills give light to the vales.”

In The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution, Thomas P. Slaughter goes further, describing the violent abuse of a tax collector by a group of tax rebels. After destroying his belongings and paperwork, the crowd forced him to “curse his commission of office,” stamp on his own personal effects and denounce his government employers, before turning on him physically:

The crowd still was not content that the tax man, the excise, and state authority had met with sufficient humiliation. So, they cut the hair off one side of [William] Graham’s head. They braided the other half in an unsightly and mocking manner, cut a hole in the cock of his hat, and fixed it sideways on his head with the pig-tail protruding from the hole. Then the mob exposed Graham to what were perhaps lewd “marks of ignominy.” . . . 

Unfortunately for the tax collector, communal sport with him as victim was not yet over. Indeed, the mob dressed his horse “in such a manner as to disfigure” it, and then paraded Graham back and forth across the three frontier counties in which he was supposed to collect the excise. Celebrants gaily but purposefully forced Graham to trudge through the mud to stills he had intended to visit in his official capacity, halting at each for a raucous ceremony and a “treat” of alcohol. At each stop they insulted Graham further and forced him to participate in the festivities.

With their veiled threats, mob agitation, mistreatment of interlopers and stentorian rhetoric, the tax rebels could almost be described as engaging in Sharptonian antics — with the important caveat that fewer people died in the Whiskey Rebellion than in just one of Sharpton’s riots. Two or three rebels were killed in a shootout at the home of big distiller John Neville in 1794. Nobody was murdered, and the rebellion dispersed peacefully after a 13,000-man militia, led part of the way by President Washington himself, marched into western Pennsylvania to put the uprising down. By comparison, Sharpton’s anti-Semitic 1995 protest against Freddie’s Fashion Mart in Harlem ended when one of Sharpton’s followers shot and killed seven innocent people before burning the store down.

But who knows? His 2013 book The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership is an ode to Sharpton’s many reinventions, from street-corner screamer to beloved elder statesman partying at the White House with Jay-Z and the president. Why not add “tax rebel” or even “doomsday prepper” to his portfolio? These would at least be consistent with his actions, which have made Sharpton’s contempt for the state’s taxing authority absolutely clear.

Welcome to the barricades, Rev.

— Tim Cavanaugh is news editor of National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Tags: Taxes , IRS Scandal , IRS Abuses , tax reform , Tax Protest

Issa: New Koskinen Testimony Will Turn Up Heat on Lois Lerner


California Republican representative Darrell Issa indicated on Sunday that upcoming testimony from Internal Revenue Service commissioner John Koskinen could further incriminate embattled former IRS official Lois Lerner.

“Either Lois Lerner’s attorney is outright not telling the truth . . . or the commissioner was inaccurate in his testimony before Congress,” Issa said on Fox News Sunday. “Now the lawyer, Mr. [William] Taylor, is not under oath. The commissioner is.”

Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was referring to statements made by Lerner’s legal team that contradicted claims made by Koskinen during recent House testimony. Lerner, former director of the tax agency’s Exempt Organizations Division, was a leader in an IRS campaign to target conservative and tea-party groups for abuse and suppression. Last year she pled her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before Congress, and she resigned soon afterward. More recently the IRS has claimed that it misplaced a trove of e-mails relating to Lerner’s potentially criminal actions.

Issa noted that Koskinen has asked for a chance to clarify his earlier testimony, adding that the evidence could underscore Lerner’s role in the widening IRS scandal.

“It probably will make us understand that Lois Lerner’s attorney continues to profess her innocence, when we’re long past the question of guilt,” Issa said. “She broke rules, she broke the law, and she continues to hide under the Fifth Amendment, which is her right. But let’s understand: She is in fact a person who’s been referred for criminal prosecution.”

Tags: Darrell Issa , Lois Lerner , IRS Scandal , Sunday Shows July 6 2014

Ted Cruz: Eric Holder Should Appoint IRS Special Prosecutor or Be Impeached


Attorney General Eric Holder should be impeached if he refuses to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the targeting of tea-party groups by the IRS, according to Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas).

With the IRS claiming to have lost two years of former official Lois Lerner’s e-mails, Cruz is headed to the floor to introduce a resolution calling for the special prosecutor.

“He’s going to say, if Attorney General Holder does not appoint a special prosecutor, he should be impeached,” a Cruz aide told National Review Online. “Eric Holder has been at the center of every big scandal in this administration . . . If he doesn’t act on this issue, it’s perfectly appropriate for him to be impeached.”

Cruz believes that Holder’s failure to appoint a special prosecutor would rise to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional standard for impeachment.

Senate Democrats, of course, are very likely to block the resolution. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) articulated the party line last week when she was asked if she was suspicious of the hard-drive crash that the IRS says eradicated Lerner’s e-mails.

“What it convinces me [of] is that they need a new technology system at the IRS,” Pelosi told reporters. “They need to upgrade their technology, get it right, so that there’s no suspicion about what agenda anyone may have on that.”

Cruz suggested that Holder should be impeached in April, but the news that Lerner suggested that the IRS examine a speaking invitation for Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) gave rise to the latest proposal.

Tags: Eric Holder , Ted Cruz , IRS Scandal

IRS: Don’t Take Free Food While Abusing Americans


What a Jolt today: The National Security Agency collects every Verizon customer’s phone records; a new poll indicates Obamacare has never been less popular; a look at the new ABC Family series, “The Fosters”; and then these developments in the IRS scandal . . . 

IRS: Okay, We’ll Stop Taking Free Food When Asking About the Content of Your Prayers

Turn the Internal Revenue Service into a partisan cudgel, and nobody blinks. But man, if you take free food, you’re toast. And you can’t even accept that toast, apparently.

Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel is placing two officials — including a top staffer implementing the health care law — on administrative leave for violating government ethics rules at a 2010 conference.

“When I came to IRS, part of my job was to hold people accountable,” Werfel said in a statement Wednesday. “There was clearly inappropriate behavior in this situation and immediate action is needed.”

Werfel didn’t specify which staff members he disciplined but congressional sources tell POLITICO one official is Fred Schindler, the director of implementation oversight at the IRS Affordable Care Act office. The other is Donald Toda, a California-based employee.

The staffers received $1,100 in free food and other items at the conference, the sources said.

$1,100 in free food? Just how much did these two guys eat? What, did they order the surf and turf and say, ‘man, this is so good, let’s get a dozen more for the road?’

Well, at least these two guys are . . . wait a minute. “Suspended employees are often paid during suspension while supervisors decide how to proceed.”

You’re going to take this paid vacation indefinitely, buster!

In other IRS news, courtesy our friends at the Franklin Center:

Recent press reports focused on the 157 visits to the White House by former IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman, but there has been little scrutiny of the 165 White House visits by the IRS ‘Obamacare’ official Sarah Hall Ingram.

According to White House visitor data, Shulman never attended any of Ingram’s meetings, and Ingram never attended a White House meeting with Shulman.

All of Ingram’s165 meetings were with White House staff, while only 151 of Shulman’s visits were with staff. Shulman attended six meetings with President Barack Obama.

Ingram attended 62 White House meetings in 2011, 90 in 2012 and 13 this year (though February).

But wait, there’s more on the IRS front today!

Two Internal Revenue Service employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office told congressional investigators that IRS officials in Washington helped direct the probe of tea-party groups that began in 2010.

Transcripts of the interviews, viewed Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, appear to contradict earlier statements by top IRS officials, who have blamed lower-level workers in Cincinnati.

Elizabeth Hofacre said her office in Cincinnati sought help from IRS officials in the Washington unit that oversees tax-exempt organizations after she started getting the tea-party cases in April 2010. Ms. Hofacre said Carter Hull, an IRS lawyer in Washington, closely oversaw her work and suggested some of the questions asked applicants.

Trust us.

Tags: IRS Abuses , IRS Scandal

The New Spin: ‘We’re Idiots! We’re Stupid! Trust Us!’


Remember the “we’re idiots” excuse from the administration on Benghazi?

“We’re portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots,” said one Obama administration official who was part of the Benghazi response. “It’s actually closer to us being idiots.”

It’s getting another rollout this weekend, this time being used to explain the IRS scandal:

“If there was somebody political involved in this, it never would have happened,” Axelrod said, “because it was the stupidest thing you could have imagined.” (An almost identical point was made by fellow Obama spokesman David Plouffe on This Week, “This was not an effort driven by the White House. It would be the dumbest political effort of all time.”)

Gentlemen . . . the “we’re stupid” excuse really isn’t as exculpatory as you think it is.

Tags: IRS Scandal , Benghazi

The IRS Is About to Have Another Tough Week


The first Morning Jolt of the week features why Eric Holder will stick around for the foreseeable future, despite anonymous quotes to the contrary in the New York Times; why we ought to show some humility when discussing modern marriage, working arrangements, and family life; and then this preview of the week . . . 

The Internal Revenue Service Is About to Have Another Bad, Bad, Bad Week

The IRS is about to have another brutal week. Here’s what Darrell Issa’s got planned:

Committee’s Thursday, June 6 hearing entitled “Collected and Wasted: The IRS Spending Culture and Conference Abuses.” The hearing will focus on the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report on excessive IRS conference spending and abuses of taxpayer dollars. Issa sent a letter about excessive spending to then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman in April, 2012. Between 2010 and 2012, the IRS held at least 220 conferences, which cost approximately $50 million.

In one example, the IRS spent $4 million dollars on a manager’s conference for 2,600 people in Anaheim, Calif. in August, 2010. Contrary to established government contracting practices, the outside event planners did not negotiate lower room rates and instead focused on “perks” for IRS employees. Several IRS employees stayed in presidential suites, which rate at $1,500–$3,500 per night. Moreover, 15 outside speakers were paid $135,000 — including one speaker who lectured on “leadership through art” for $17,000.

Additionally, multiple videos were produced for the conference. A previously unreleased video, referred to as the “cupid shuffle,” featured employees learning the popular dance as part of preparation for the Anaheim management conference.

Watch IRS Employees “Getting Ready for Anaheim”

But wait, there’s more! Take a look at the excerpts from interviews that Issa’s committee is releasing:

Another more senior IRS Cincinnati employee complained about micromanagement from D.C.:

Q: But you specifically recall that the BOLO [Be On Look Out] terms included “Tea Party?”

A: Yes, I do.

Q: And it was your understanding — was it your understanding that the purpose of the BOLO was to identify Tea Party groups?

A: That is correct.

Q: Was it your understanding that the purpose of the BOLO was to identify conservative groups?

A: Yes, it was.

Q: Was it your understanding that the purpose of the BOLO was to identify Republican groups?

A: Yes, it was.




Q: Earlier I believe you informed us that the primary reason for applying for another job in July [2010] was because of the micromanagement from [Washington, DC, IRS Attorney], is that correct?

A: Right. It was the whole Tea Party. It was the whole picture. I mean, it was the micromanagement. The fact that the subject area was extremely sensitive and it was something that I didn’t want to be associated with.

Q: Why didn’t you want to be associated with it?

A: For what happened now. I mean, rogue agent? Even though I was taking all my direction from EO Technical [Washington, D.C], I didn’t want my name in the paper for being this rogue agent for a project I had no control over.

Q: Did you think there was something inappropriate about what was happening in 2010?

A: Yes. The inappropriateness was not processing these applications fairly and timely.

Tags: IRS Abuses , IRS Scandal , Darrell Issa

Obama’s Numbers on Job Approval, Honesty Suddenly Tumble


Another busy Jolt today . . . two sections to preview this morning:

BOOM: Quinnipiac Sees Obama’s Approval Take a Sudden Tumble

For a couple of weeks, Obama fans have been high-fiving each other, looking at polling numbers and concluding the public didn’t really blame the president for any of the scandals engulfing his administration.

Well, looks like they celebrated too early:

American voters say 76 – 17 percent, including 63 – 30 percent among Democrats, that a special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate charges the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

President Barack Obama gets a negative 45 – 49 percent job approval rating, compared to 48 – 45 percent positive in a May 1 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University, conducted before the IRS allegations surfaced.

The president’s biggest drop is among independent voters, who give him a negative 37 – 57 percent score, compared to a negative 42 – 48 percent May 1. He gets a negative 9 – 86 percent from Republicans and a positive 87 – 8 percent from Democrats, both virtually unchanged. Women approve 49 – 45 percent while men give a negative 40 – 54 percent score.

Americans are divided 49 – 47 percent on whether Obama is honest and trustworthy, down from 58 – 37 percent, the last time Quinnipiac University asked the question September 1, 2011.

Gee, what could cause that drop? Moving along . . . 

News-Junkie Hipster-ism and ‘The Real Scandal’

If you’ll allow me to quote Matt Welch twice, he articulates an irritation buzzing around the back of my head, pundits’ all-too-frequent declaration that whatever scandal is in the headlines is an obviously frivolous and inconsequential distraction, and that they’ve figured out what we really ought to be talking about if we’re serious, thoughtful people. You know . . . “the real scandal,” as they incessantly declare.

But the real party comes when you search on “the real scandal.” So much to choose from!

There’s “child poverty” (Jesse Jackson, Chicago Sun-Times), “political gridlock” (Ned Barnett, Charlotte News & Observer), “the Republican party’s devotion to grandstanding over governance and its preference for slime over substance” (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., The Huffington Post), “secret money influencing US elections” (Ari Berman, The Nation), “that 501(c)(4) groups have been engaged in political activity in such a sustained and open way” (Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker), that “they let General Electric not pay any taxes” (Michael Moore, HuffPost Live), sex abuse in the military (Katrina vanden Heuvel, Washington Post), and even “the IRS itself” (John Tamny, Forbes).

This is like news junkie hipster-ism. “Oh, you’re following that news story? Pshaw. I was following that story years ago. The really important story now is [some obscure story they’re fairly certain you haven’t read about yet].”

Now, some of those items are real problems, i.e., child poverty and sex abuse in the military. But only a fool would argue that the existence of one problem automatically de-prioritizes any other problem. Maybe there are a lot of big problems in our government and society that the American people should be concerned about and try to solve or improve. Maybe we really have a lot of scandals going on.

The real scandal is that we have so many real scandals going on.

Tags: Polling , President Obama , IRS Scandal

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