North Dakota wants hired pipeline protesters to pay state income taxes

After spending more than $22 million on the Dakota Access pipeline protest, North Dakota wants to make sure any paid activists remember to submit their state income taxes.

Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said his office is keeping an eye out for tax forms from environmental groups that may have hired protesters to agitate against the 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline project.

“It’s something we’re looking at. I can tell you I’ve had a number of conversations with legislators regarding this very issue,” said Mr. Rauschenberger. “[We’re] looking at the entities that have potential paid contractors here on their behalf doing work.”

It’s no secret that millions have been funneled into the six-month-old demonstration via crowdfunding websites, and that more than 30 environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, Indigenous Environmental Network, Food and Water Watch, 350.org and Greenpeace, have backed the protest.

If national environmental organizations are paying protest personnel, they’re not saying so publicly. Still, Mr. Rauschenberger said red flags will be raised if he doesn’t start seeing W2 or 1099 tax forms from those affiliated with the protest arriving at his office.

“It’s something we could possibly pursue if we don’t see 1099s coming in for the activity,” Mr. Rauschenberger said.

The ongoing demonstration has been costly to the state. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota Democrat, issued a plea last week for federal help with unruly protesters, some still camped out on federal land, after President Trump moved to expedite the pipeline review.

North Dakota lawmakers asked repeatedly for aid from the Obama administration without success.

“After five months of protests, over 600 arrests related to those protests, and more than $22 million in North Dakota taxpayer dollars spent on law enforcement resources to keep North Dakotans safe during the protests, state and local law enforcement agencies are in dire need of federal support,” Ms. Heitkamp said in her letter.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier has criticized “paid agitators” who crossed the line from peaceful protest to lawbreaking by trespassing on private property, blocking highways and bridges and throwing rocks, feces and burning logs at law enforcement.

“If an organization is directly paying someone to come and do activities on their behalf, even protesting — if they’re receiving income and they’re here in North Dakota performing activities for an organization, they owe income tax from Day One,” Mr. Rauschenberger said. “And that entity should be issuing 1099s. Just like a contractor.”

Whether protesters would be required to report income based on crowdfunding donations falls into more of a gray area, he said.

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