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Scott Vicary doesn’t expect the federal government to be overwhelmed by his estimated $2,224 income-tax outlay. Rather, the D.C. resident hopes the IRS will be overwhelmed by the size of his check—
Vicary’s check will carry two imprinted messages along with its impressive dimensions: “No Taxation Without Representation” and “Statehood For D.C.” The co-founder of the activist group DC RABBLE (Representation Alliance for Ballot Box and Legislative Equality), Vicary hopes his
novelty-sized payment will gum up the works long enough to be seen by bureaucrat after bureaucrat. “In the process of [the government’s] either accepting these checks or rejecting these checks, we will be sending our message throughout the entire tax infrastructure,” he says.
On April 15, Vicary hopes to lead a rally of 20 to 30 novelty-check-bearers in Freedom Plaza. “The basic principle behind having large checks as opposed to sending a brick in…is that we want to put voting rights messages on the checks supporting normal rights for D.C. residents,” he says.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans says he’ll be with the group in spirit, if not in practice. “I’ve already paid my taxes by regular-sized check, but I’ll certainly be there to support them,” Evans says.
“The concept of using nonstandard checks as a form of protest dates easily a century back,” Vicary says. The 38-year-old environmental-fund manager first learned how to super-size a grievance when he lived in England in the ’80s. As part of protests against Britain’s poll tax, complainants sent in their payments as checks written on large pieces of paper, bricks, and, in Vicary’s case, a 2-by-4.
The British government accepted the lumber as legal tender and cashed it. But the D.C. group will be sticking to paper rather than wood or masonry, thanks to America’s stricter interpretations of what constitutes a check. “The IRS, under their regulations, has broad latitude to reject any form of payment that it believes…ultimately won’t cash,” Vicary says. IRS spokesman Sam Serio passes the buck: He says the decision on whether a check is valid ultimately falls to banks. “We don’t care what size it is—we’ll submit it,” he says. “If it’s negotiable, everything’s OK. If not, the taxpayer still owes the money.”
The DC RABBLE Web site, at dcrabble.org, offers a primer on how to make checks more passable—including downloadable preformatted checks that can be printed in a variety of sizes. Since the check forms became available, Vicary says, the site’s hit rate has doubled, to about 50 visits a day. There are details about how to transfer information from a personal check to an outsized one, including advice on tracing the routing number with magnetic ink—”if you can find it.”
There’s also advice on what not to do. “[D]o not write ‘This check may be cashed when DC is granted full democracy,’” the site warns, “as this will cease to be a valid, negotiable check.”
Vicary made himself into a test case last year, sending in an 8-and-a-half-by-14 payment for a quarterly estimated-tax payment. His check was ultimately rejected, but he does take some pride in gumming up the works. “It went all the way through the Federal Reserve system and then it came back as a noncash item,” Vicary says. “The whole process took damn near three months.” CP