Charles J. Moreland, the Democratic nominee for a shadow seat to the U.S. House of Representatives, said yesterday he has failed to file his federal income tax returns for at least the past five years and his District returns for the past three years.
Moreland said he refused to file because he wanted to draw attention to the issue of statehood for the District. He said he viewed this intentional act as a political asset in the Nov. 6 election.
"It puts me in a better position to achieve the goal of statehood," said Moreland, who is in a three-way contest for the unsalaried, nonvoting lobbying post. "We have to confront the system."
The D.C. Council created three shadow seats -- two for the U.S. Senate and one for the House -- this year to lobby Congress for statehood for the District. Some local political activists have suggested that with so little clout on the floor of those chambers and no operating budgets, the shadow lobbyists might not be taken seriously by seated, voting members.
Moreland is the second Democratic candidate running citywide this fall to acknowledge a failure to file tax returns. Earlier this month, the campaign of D.C. delegate nominee Eleanor Holmes Norton was rocked by the disclosure that Norton and her husband failed to file their local income taxes for the past seven years. Since then, Norton has paid the District $88,546 in back taxes, interest and penalties.
But Norton continues to have problems in vote-rich Ward 3, the predominantly white area west of Rock Creek Park that voted heavily in the primary for Norton rival Betty Ann Kane, an at-large member of the D.C. Council.
For example, the executive committee of the Ward 3 Democratic Party has voted 5 to 0, with two abstentions, to urge Norton to withdraw from the race and allow the party to select a different nominee in her place, party sources said yesterday. The recommendation, declaring Norton "unfit" for public office, will be considered by the full Ward 3 organization at a meeting this evening..
Richard Gross, a lawyer and member of the committee, said there is "enormous concern" among Democrats in Ward 3 about Norton's failure to file.
"My personal view is that her support in the ward has evaporated," Gross said. "I don't want her character to stand between the District and home rule."
Donna Brazile, Norton's campaign manager, said Norton has "no intention of withdrawing from the race." She said Norton intends to have breakfast this morning with the Ward 3 Democratic leadership to discuss the matter.
Reaction to Norton's tax trouble varied yesterday on Capitol Hill, where several House members expressed a willingness to work with whomever wins the delegate's race.
Asked whether the disclosure that Norton failed to file her tax returns for seven years could limit her effectiveness, Majority Whip William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) said, "If she's duly elected by the people, I don't think so.
"She's the Democratic nominee," Gray added. "I will support her. I think she's corrected the problem."
Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), a strong supporter of Norton's, said that her announcement Friday that she paid the back taxes should resolve the controversy. "She made a very effective case that in fact the failure to file was not because of her actions," he said.
Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was more critical, saying, "Obviously it is very distressing to have a public figure not pay their taxes."
Gingrich condemned what he described as an "ongoing belief that those who are in politics are somehow above the law" but that "compared to Marion Barry, she'll be a relief and a sign of virtue."
Moreland, 42, a professional lobbyist, indicated that his income during the past three years was so low that he owed no D.C. or federal tax and may not have reached the salary levels above which taxpayers are required to file.
He noted that he has been living off the proceeds of a legal settlement he won after an automobile accident and has made "very little" money since 1987.
Moreland said he did owe some tax to the federal government in 1984 or 1985, when he was paid about $20,000 as a lobbyist for District Cablevision but did not file a return because the District lacked voting representation in Congress.
Moreland, who declined to release salary or tax data for any of the years he did not file, said he wished he had owed the federal government an even larger sum to make his protest more meaningful. His statements were made in response to a Washington Post query about his taxes.
Henry B. Holmes, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service, said the law requires taxpayers whose income is above certain thresholds to file returns even if they owe the federal government nothing, or are due a refund. The IRS can assess civil penalties or seek criminal judgments against recalcitrant taxpayers.
Willful failure to file a federal or District tax return is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and up to one year in prison.
Moreland eked out a victory in the Democratic Party's Sept. 11 primary, defeating opponent Dee Hunter by 473 votes in an election where 92,578 votes were cast. Moreland is considered a strong candidate in the District, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 9 to 1.
In contrast to Norton, Moreland said he regarded his failure to file as an act of civil disobedience, one for which he is willing to risk prosecution. He said that he sent a notice of his protest to the federal government at least five years ago, but would not release a copy of the notice yesterday.