51st State Nixes 51st Statehood Fundraiser
If you were planning to head out to the 51st State tonight to support statehood activist Karen Szulgit's efforts to pay her protest-incurred tax bill, don't bother—party's been canceled.
According to a release from Szulgit, a manager at the bar said: "51st State Tavern has always been happy to host fundraisers for worthy causes...but we have also always felt that such events should benefit a group, not a single person." (The bar didn't immediately return a call for comment.)
A little back story: Back in 2003, a bunch of statehood rabble-rousers called, um, D.C. RABBLE, launched a "tax obstruction campaign." One tactic embraced by some activists, including Szulgit, was to pay their tax bills with "big checks" that included messages including "Emancipate DC Tax Slaves Now!"; "FREE DC!"; "Full Rights for DC!"; and "No Taxation Without Representation!" (The checks had all the necessary information for actual payment and we printed with the requisite magnetic ink and all that.)
The feds, however, wouldn't take Szulgit's checks for her 2004, 2005, and 2006 returns, which she enclosed with a letter informing the authorities that her tax return was "paid under protest." In February, Szulgit got notice from the IRS that she owed more than $1,000—the $850 she originally owed plus interest and penalties. An IRS agent, she says, told her the fines were due to the fact that the "check was not done correct." Szulgit paid the $850 in February.
The remaining $526.24, however, she was hoping to make up through this fundraiser. Szulgit says she learned about the cancellation in an e-mail from 51st State manager Bjarne Hecht over the weekend.
Says Szulgit, "I'm very disappointed that Mr. Hecht viewed my event as benefiting only me. I always felt that my actions in pursuit of self-determination for D.C. were on behalf of all Washingtonians who value equality, not just me."
UPDATE, 4/24, 3 P.M.: Finally got in touch with Hecht, who essentially confirms Szulgit's recounting of the events. "We were led to believe that this was a fundraiser for the organization she represents," he says. D.C. voting rights, he says, is "a worthy cause," but when it comes to a benefit for a single person, "That we can't do."
The bar's policy, Hecht says, is that if a private event can guarantee more than 40 people or if it's a legit fundraiser, the bar will offer a private room. Otherwise, he says, you have to pay for a private room.
Hecht says his bar's hosted plenty of fundraisers over the years and will continue to: "We've had leukemia, tsunami—you name it."