Tax law and the Constitution

December 23, 1993

Tax protesters present a nettlesome dilemma for the nation. We must respect their right to dissent and to publicize their views, even as we know that their cause deep in their hearts is to avoid paying for the community services that benefit us all, including them.

Their bottom line is to improve their bottom line at our expense, no matter how elegantly they embroider their cloak of constitutional sophistry.

There is also the suggestion that there is a cult-like network in the tax protest movement. Some individuals make a living from it, peddling their brand of legal truth to gullible folk who prefer to fork over hard cash to a stranger than to the government.

We don't know exactly into which tax protester category John B. Kotmair Jr., of Manchester, fits, only noting that the initials of his advice organization are S-A-P (Save-A-Patriot), to which members pay $650 dues.

Armed federal agents raided his office and home this month, seizing records, cash, computer equipment and his printing press in support of an investigation alleging tax evasion since 1986 that amounts to more than $500,000.

Mr. Kotmair, who has previously served some time in jail for failing to file tax returns, claims the seizures were aimed at silencing his tax law counseling services and his newsletter, "Reasonable Action."

His organization has been operating in Carroll County since 1979, and it holds regular meetings in Westminster.

He has appeared more than once in tax court to assist members in their defense. If the Internal Revenue Service was intent upon stopping Mr. Kotmair, they've had ample opportunity before this court-sanctioned raid.

At the same time, the confiscation of publishing equipment by authorities raises the question of whether the government is trying to stifle Mr. Kotmair's constitutional right to express his views, even if controversial or erroneous.

That would be as wrong as anything Mr. Kotmair is alleged to have done.

Certainly, the mix of personal, business and publishing data in a computer raises a hard legal problem for officials. We hope the court will promptly decide what confiscated property is essential to this government case, and what is not.

Subpoenas should not be used as carte blanche to abridge freedoms of speech and the press.

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