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El Salvador RPCV John Kefalas skips taxes in protest
El Salvador RPCV John Kefalas skips taxes in protest
Candidate Kefalas skips taxes in protest
Democrat didn't pay government for years, still refuses telephone tax
By MATTHEW BENSON
Local Democrat and House District 52 candidate John Kefalas acknowledged Wednesday he has selectively avoided paying federal taxes throughout the years in protest of United States military action.
The longtime social activist and war protester didn't pay federal income taxes through the 1980s and part of the 1990s, and continues to avoid his federal telephone excise tax.
"It's not been my intention to hide any of this stuff. But, for obvious reasons, I haven't exactly put it out there," Kefalas told the Coloradoan on Wednesday. "It's part of my philosophy of nonviolent social change."
But his opponent for the Democratic nomination in District 52 -- Fort Collins City Councilman Bill Bertschy -- questioned whether Kefalas' actions erode his credibility as a would-be lawmaker.
"If you're going to try to change the law, that's one thing," Bertschy said. "But if you're breaking the law, that's something different."
A lobbyist with Catholic Charities Northern, Kefalas faces Bertschy in Tuesday's primary election. The winner will meet incumbent Rep. Bob McCluskey, a Fort Collins Republican, in the Nov. 2 general election.
Kefalas' so-called war tax resistance is part of a larger effort he has led for more than 20 years in protest of war and military action.
In 2003, he went on a 29-day fast in support of those suffering in the Iraq war. Also last year, Kefalas was among roughly 150 war protesters involved in a March 25 act of civil disobedience that blocked traffic on a one-block stretch of Prospect Road for just more than an hour.
Kefalas called his tax avoidance an extension of his other efforts.
He noted that he always has included with his tax filings a letter to the IRS saying what taxes he was avoiding and why and that he has been honest about his actions when asked. A Rocky Mountain News candidate questionnaire, for example, asked whether a tax lien ever had been filed against him. Kefalas checked "yes," explaining, "I was not paying a portion of my federal income taxes based on my faith and moral principles ..."
"I've always been very open and honest about this, and I've always been willing to accept the consequences," Kefalas said Wednesday.
Those consequences have included run-ins with the IRS, including wage garnishments and the lien.
Kefalas' name surfaces on numerous anti-war and war tax resistance Web sites. On one such site of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, a February 2001 essay by Kefalas explains the means and rationale behind his effort.
"War tax resistance is part of the complete package for doing justice, showing mercy, causing no harm and being well with others while living softly on the earth," Kefalas states in the essay.
The IRS hasn't been so understanding over the years.
The agency would not address specific cases such as Kefalas', but spokeswoman Nancy Mathis said 2,000 people a year are convicted for willfully violating the tax code.
"Generally, more than 90 percent of Americans comply with the tax law," she said.
Kefalas' war tax resistance cost him hefty interest and other penalties, and his essay states, "Thank goodness for the folks who manage the war tax penalty fund because that fund helped us deal with over $500 in penalties and interest."
He began his war tax resistance in 1980, shortly after returning from a stint with the Peace Corps in El Salvador.
The country was embroiled in civil war, Kefalas explained, and he witnessed how the United States government was "on the wrong side."
"Our government was basically supporting right-wing dictators. We were supporting dictatorships, and we were supporting leaders who were oppressing their own people," he said. "That was a very deep, deep experience. It was one of my conversion experiences."
So Kefalas began refusing to pay his telephone excise tax, a tax enacted by Congress in 1898 to help fund the Spanish-American War. The tax was repealed in 1902 but re-imposed in 1914 to help pay for World War I.
He also began avoiding all or a portion of his federal income taxes and practiced "W-4 resistance" by claiming more exemptions to reduce his payroll deduction.
In 1988, Kefalas and his wife paid the $108 they owed to remove the lien against them. They were in the market for a home, he said, and he made the decision to preserve "family accord."
"My wife didn't want to do this anymore," he said. "It's hard. It's a hard thing."
But Kefalas has been steadfast in his opposition to war, including the war in Iraq, in which his son, Harlan, continues to serve. Harlan Kefalas is a sergeant with the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry.
McCluskey said he applauds those who exercise free speech to protest or support the war and called that right "one of our strengths in this country."
But avoiding taxes crosses the line, he said, adding, "If you sort of pay taxes on what you want and not on what you disagree with, I guess I have a problem with that."
Kefalas has no regrets.
"It's not an easy or light matter when one chooses to break laws. A significant part of the civil rights movement was breaking unjust laws," he said. "Each person chooses the best way to live according to their values.
"This is part of who I am. This has always been done honestly -- as a matter of conscience, as a matter of faith. I stand by it."