The Plunderbund’s Persecution of Phil Hart
by William Norman Grigg
The memory of man runs not to a time when an elected representative faced an ethics inquiry over official actions involving the theft and redistribution of the property of other people.
By way of illustration, consider – if you can stand to – the career of the late Robert Byrd. The former Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan “redeemed” himself by spending more than a half-century building monuments to himself out of wealth pillaged from other people. Byrd’s memorials include a statue of himself he inflicted on the West Virginia state capitol, in violation of a law forbidding such acts of taxpayer-funded narcissism by living politicians.
During his long reign as West Virginia’s pompadoured paladin of pork, Byrd never faced an ethics inquiry. This is because the erstwhile Klansman was a dutiful servant of the Plunderbund.
By way of contrast, Idaho state representative Phil Hart finds himself arraigned before the ethics commisariat because he provoked the hostility of the tax-extraction bureaucracy.
His “offense” was questioning the constitutional and legal premises on which that bureaucracy was built. Quixotic though his campaign might be, Hart has never been guilty of corruption or criminal conduct. Yet his supposed allies in the state Republican Party seem determined to expel him from the legislature.
Rep. Hart, who represents a northern Idaho town called Athol in the state legislature, has been uniformly execrated in the courtier press as a “tax cheat” and “scofflaw” by the media in both Idaho and Washington.
It is true that Hart – an engineer by education and professional background, a reluctant politician by conviction – withheld tax payments while mounting a constitutional challenge to the federal income tax. However, after exhausting his judicial remedies in 2004, Hart filed a tax return and has since then paid more than $120,000 in combined taxes, interest, and penalties.
This isn’t the behavior of a determined “tax cheat” (an expression that connotes a moral delinquency on the part of someone trying to protect his honestly earned wealth from the designs of government-sanctioned robbers). Furthermore, there’s nothing criminal or corrupt about mounting a constitutional challenge and losing in the courts.
Rep. Hart’s actual offense was not withholding payment of taxes, but rather refusing to surrender to the IRS the names and contact information of the thousands of people who purchased his self-published book Constitutional Income: Do You Have Any?, a detailed, scholarly examination of the history of the federal income tax.
In writing that book, Hart applied the mental discipline of a trained engineer to the task of examining the convoluted legal and political history of the income tax. This included a study of every available legislative debate over the 16th Amendment, as well as contemporaneous media accounts and the official transcripts of the relevant Supreme Court decisions. Many of the documents Hart examined were found only through exceptionally devoted research and had never been read by eyes other than his.
Hart’s conclusion was that “there is no evidence upon which the government can rely for their claim that the American People desired to have their wages and salaries taxed…. It was never the intention of the American People for the 16th Amendment to confer the new power upon Congress that the bureaucracy says it has.”
“Among the states which purportedly ratified the 16th Amendment, at least four of them have overturned state income taxation on the basis that earning a living is a fundamental right which cannot be taxed,” continues Hart. A tax on one’s wages is a form of slavery; it is literally a tax on a person’s right to exist.
The original intent of the 16th Amendment, as one Congressman pointed out during a 1943 speech on the House floor (see Congressional Record, March 27, 1943, p. 2580), was not to impose a tax “on income as such,” but rather to impose an “excise tax with respect to certain activities and privileges which is measured by reference to the income which they produce.” In other words, the income tax was applied to income derived from the privilege of acting as a government-created corporation.
As is the case with much of what happened in annus horribilis 1913 – the Federal Reserve System being the most notable example – the income tax was sold to the public as a way of protecting the common people from the predations of the super-wealthy.
At the time, the Republican-created tariff system amounted to “a tax placed on the American people not by government, but by business,” writes Hart.
The income tax was designed to target those who profited from government-created and tariff-assisted monopolies. This was the “bait.” The “switch” came once the 16th Amendment was ratified, when legislators in thrall to what used to be called the Money Power (with the detestable Nelson Aldrich playing a key role, as he did in the creation of the Federal Reserve) retrofitted language into the tax code that defined “wages” as the revenue source targeted by the income tax.
Hart’s analysis is similar to, but more comprehensive than, many other critiques of the income tax system. He is optimistic that the system can be reformed if he and others can cultivate sufficient awareness of the original intent behind the income tax, and the institutionalized fraud committed by the current tax bureaucracy.
Unfortunately, he seems to have radically overestimated the system’s capacity for institutional reform, while radically underestimating its capacity for institutionalized malice toward those who pose a substantial threat.
“I read your book `Constitutional Income: Do You Have Any?'” Hart was notified in a letter from IRS agent Barbara Parks announcing that the state-sponsored terrorist clique employing her was beginning an “investigation” of the book. The purpose of that inquiry, she continued, was “to determine whether or not your statements are commercial speech and whether this activity causes harm to the government.”
With the help of the Center for Individual Rights, Hart successfully sued the IRS to interdict the agency’s demand that he turn over the names of everybody who had purchased his book. Four years later, the IRS retaliated against Hart by issuing a final audit report denying all of his business deductions for eight years, hitting him with an additional tax liability of roughly $125,000. When he protested his treatment to the IRS, an official with the agency gloatingly explained: “When you don’t give us everything we ask for, you get all of your deductions denied.”
“During [my] four year audit, I provided the IRS with all my canceled checks, receipts, invoices and so on – boxes worth,” Hart recounts. “Yet these deductions were denied solely for political reasons.”
Certified Public Accountant Paul J. Desfosses, a retired U.S. Treasury Agent residing in Pocatello, Idaho, sustains and elaborates on Hart’s conclusion that he has been targeted for retaliation by the IRS “for failing to `snitch’ on and provide the names of those Citizens who might have dared to buy and read [his] book with its critical history and assessment of Federal Income Tax Law.”
“I wish I could say that Representative Hart is wrong and that the IRS does not demand the names of Citizens who read disparaging comments about the Federal Income Tax, the IRS, or `big brother government’ in general,” writes Desfosses. “The truth is, that does happen….”
“While assigned to the Internal Revenue Service Idaho District, I was a National Treasury Employees Union Official and I routinely acted as the Union Steward in situations involving IRS employees who had been ordered to commit reprehensible and often felony criminal actions by their IRS managers or other IRS top officials,” Desfosses elaborates. The agency “collected and compiled huge lists of citizens who were then targeted for audit and harassment for having bought and read a book such as Representative Hart’s,” or because they were perceived to be “a `threat’ to the Federal Government’s power” by IRS supervisors.
Representative Hart isn’t the only recent victim of this treatment, Desfosses continues. “In April I attended a U.S. Tax Court trial involving an Idaho State University Professor who had obviously been targeted by [the] IRS at the request of a Federal District Court Judge whose past criminal actions the professor had exposed in a newsletter,” thereby resulting in the denial of an appointment to the Appeals Court. But abuses of this kind – against both tax victims and IRS employees still burdened with a functioning conscience – are commonplace, Desfosses concludes.
In persecuting the Plunderbund’s enemies, the IRS can rely on the support of minor-league predators in state-level positions. So it’s not surprising that the Idaho Tax Commission, after learning of the IRS’s assault on Hart, gleefully piled on, demanding its cut of the fraudulently inflated “taxable income” and barraging him with tax liens.
Since abandoning his constitutional challenge, Hart ruefully observes, none of the more than $120,000 he has paid “has been used to offset any of the lien amounts.” His ongoing legal struggle with the Tax Commission provided the pretext for the ethics investigation against Hart.
In Idaho, as in other states, legislators are protected from any “civil process” while the legislature is in session (vide the Idaho State Constitution, Art. III, Sec. 7: “Senators and representatives in all cases … shall not be liable to any civil process during the session of the legislature, nor during the ten days next before the commencement thereof….”)
Invoking that long-established principle, Rep. Hart sought to postpone his protracted legal struggle with the Idaho Tax Commission until after the end of the legislative session. This was somehow transmuted by his critics into an attempt “to obtain special treatment from the Idaho Tax Commission.” Likewise, Hart’s service on the tax policy committee was described as giving the appearance of an attempt “to set aside the tax law and obtain personal financial benefit.”
The second charge is facially ludicrous. In describing Rep. Hart’s supposed offense, Idaho House Minority Leader John Rusche complained that the committee assignment creates “the perception of a conflict of interest.” But neither he nor any of Hart’s other critics can specify the “financial benefit” Hart supposedly receives from that post. Indeed, Hart’s service has done nothing to stanch his financial hemorrhage, much less provide him with some ill-obtained emolument.
By way of illustrating Hart’s supposed conflicts of interest, the Spokane Spokesman-Review points to two tax rules that passed the tax policy committee with Hart’s support. The rules, observes the paper, “Were designed to toughen up standards for secret settlements between state tax commissioners and protesting taxpayers. Critics said they actually weakened the rules.”
Of course, if Hart had voted against the measures, his detractors quite likely would have accused him of a “conflict” because the stated intent of the rules was to strengthen the tax commission. In any case, as Hart patiently explained to the Spokesman-Review, his own conflict with the tax commission “was beyond the point where [a settlement] would be a possibility” – so no substantive conflict existed, despite the determined efforts of his critics to perceive one.
The objection that Hart has abused the principle of legislative immunity has even less merit. As Washington state legislator Matthew Shea observes in a tightly-reasoned essay examining that principle in light of precedent and practices in other states, Hart’s legal position is unassailable.
“Rep. Hart has relied on the legislative immunity provision of the Idaho Constitution to postpone working on his own tax issues, which have been ongoing for a few years,” writes Rep. Shea, who is also a practicing attorney. “There is no question that it is within the sovereign power of the states to afford this protection. Furthermore, the law seems to be clearly on Rep. Hart’s side. So why does the witch hunt continue?”
“Not only are Rep. Hart’s accusers in error,” concludes Rep. Shea, “but the entire situation substantiates the very reason legislative immunity was written into the constitution in the first place – to prevent political persecution.”
In an interview with Pro Libertate Rep. Hart – a political ally of several insurgent candidates in the recent Idaho Republican primaries – expressed the view that the ethics complaint was confected by enemies within the statist elements of the state’s Republican establishment. This is an entirely plausible explanation for the otherwise inexplicable decision of the Republican-dominated legislative leadership to stage an ethics inquisition on the basis of terminally flimsy charges.
Already under siege by the world’s most despicable terrorist syndicate (no, not al-Qaeda – the IRS), Hart now has to contend with spurious charges of seeking “special treatment” and “financial gain.” Yet state Rep. Ken Roberts remains secure within the Idaho Republican Party in spite of the fact, recently disclosed by the Lewiston Tribune, that Roberts has received nearly $370,000 in farm subsidies since 1995.
Roberts, who ritualistically reviles subsidies directed at others, insists that when he’s on the receiving end of plunder he’s not redistributing wealth, but rather “recycling wealth.” Predictably, nobody in the state Republican leadership has proposed that Roberts be subjected to an ethics inquiry.
The Idaho Falls Post-Register notes that “three of the four members of the House GOP leadership team have cashed federal farm checks.” A total of 36 current members of the state legislature have received federal agriculture payments (including disaster assistance and conservation reserve payments) since 1995. Of that number, 19 received subsidies – and 18 of the Welfare Queens are Republicans, the people who “led the mostly ceremonial fight against the federal government during the 2010 legislative session,” observes the Post-Register.
Phil Hart’s fight against federal tyranny was substantive, not ceremonial – and that’s why he’s taking fire not only from the agents of the Plunderbund who confront him, but also from the less principled Republicans who are cowering behind him.
July 29, 2010