Allegations That IRS Harassed Mississippi Civil Rights Activists Unsupported

GGD-78-32: Published: Jan 27, 1978. Publicly Released: Jan 27, 1978.

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In a 1975 newspaper article, allegations were made that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) harassed 28 Mississippi civil rights activists through extensive audits of their income tax returns. To investigate these allegations, GAO examined tax returns, audit case files, intelligence records, and other pertinent data and interviewed appropriate officials and taxpayers.

No evidence was found to support the allegations. The 28 taxpayers were audited a total of 45 times for tax years 1970 through 1975. With possibly one exception, IRS followed normal procedures in selecting the returns for audit. It followed normal procedures in: (1) initiating, conducting, and closing audits; (2) allowing taxpayers time and flexibility in providing information and allowing them to exercise appeal rights; and (3) obtaining limited information through its intelligence-gathering apparatus and in using that information. Allegations that random selections would not have resulted in audits of this group were without merit since selections are not random but based on such factors as whether returns involve business, income levels, and characteristics of the returns. The news article noted that none of the audits suggested serious taxpayer misconduct. This is not contrary to the purpose of audits which is to verify tax liability. The average tax change in these audits approximated that national average. In any tax audit, the taxpayer may experience a feeling of harassment because of the adversary situation, but the situations in these cases were not unusual.

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