Philadelphia goes after the bloggers

Is it Taxation, Censorship or Both?
by William L. Anderson

It seems that the news each day brings a fresh set of government outrages, from police beating up bystanders to prosecutorial misconduct
to regulation of some peaceful conduct. Not surprisingly, governments
fight back when angry citizens publicize the abuses.

In Maryland and elsewhere, people who record police officers making arrests are charged with felonies and threatened with decades in prison.

In Mississippi prosecutors gain a conviction employing “expert” witnesses whose
testimonies go beyond the bounds of legitimate science, and the courts
swallow the nonsense.

And now Philadelphia is going after a popular method for citizens to express their discontent with government: blogs. The rulers of the City
of Brotherly Love have not outlawed blogs; rather they are using what
the nation’s fourth chief justice, John Marshall, called the “power to
destroy”: taxation.

The city government is demanding that some bloggers pay $300 for a licensing fee and then pay taxes on all profits. Of course, most bloggers don’t make
any money; their posting is informal and irregular. That, however, does
not matter to Philadelphia officials. The Philadelphia City Paper reports:

Even though small-time bloggers aren’t exactly raking in the dough, the city requires privilege licenses for any business engaged
in any “activity for profit,” says tax attorney Michael Mandale…. This
applies “whether or not they earned a profit during the preceding year,”
he adds.

So even if your blog collects a handful of hits a day, as long as there’s the potential for it to be lucrative — and, as Mandale points
out, most hosting sites set aside space for bloggers to sell advertising
— the city thinks you should cut it a check. According to Andrea
Mannino of the Philadelphia Department of Revenue, in fact, simply
choosing the option to make money from ads — regardless of how much or
little money is actually generated — qualifies a blog as a business. The
same rules apply to freelance writers. As former City Paper
news editor Doron Taussig once lamented, the city considers freelancers …
“businesses,” and requires them to pay for a license and pay taxes on
their profits, on top of their state and federal taxes.

For all of the revenue talk, however, I suspect there is a more important reason for this new government outrage: intimidation of anyone
who would use a blog to criticize government officials. The connection
is easy to make. Bloggers in Philadelphia who might utter words of
dissent against the city’s ruling class would make themselves visible,
especially if the comments took hold with a larger audience. Thus city
officials would be able to access the records to see if the blogger had
paid for a business license. If not, the rogue would be brought to
justice.

This past year I used one of my blogs to write on the trial of Tonya Craft and its aftermath in northwest Georgia, and I admittedly took no
prisoners. I reported on obvious instances of alleged perjury from
prosecution witnesses and pointed out huge inconsistencies in the
prosecutorial evidence.

Obviously, I did not earn friends on the prosecution side, and I am sure the prosecutors and judge would have loved to have shut down my
blog, especially since the jury acquitted Craft. (Three days after the
verdict the district attorney declared that the blogosphere “created an environment hostile to the State’s ability to receive a fair trial.”)

In this day of governments grasping for revenues, it is not surprising to see Philadelphia trying to milk the bloggers. I suspect
other cities will follow suit. However, I believe that the larger issue
is that governments once again are looking for any means to silence
their detractors. Entities with the power to tax their critics also have
the weapons to destroy them.

http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/not-so-fast/is-it-taxation-...


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