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Corporate scandals unearth taxpayers' honest streak

By Times Staff
Published March 7, 2006

If you knew your neighbors had cheated on their taxes, should you turn them in? More than three of five people surveyed by the IRS Oversight Board said you should.

The board, which provides independent oversight and advice for the Internal Revenue Service, found 62 percent of people surveyed completely or mostly agreed that "it is everyone's personal responsibility to report anyone who cheats on their taxes."

That's more than the year before, when a slim majority of 53 percent agreed with that view.

The board didn't delve too much deeper during its interviews with 1,000 people last summer, and the board didn't ask a sociologist or psychologist to interpret the results.

Chairman Raymond Wagner Jr. speculated that a spate of financial scandals caused taxpayers to reconnect with their honesty and integrity.

"Taxpayers are mindful of the corporate accounting scandals, the mutual fund scandals, big accounting firms and law firms concocting sophisticated, illegal tax shelters for their big, wealthy clients," Wagner said.

"I think that is calling to people's mind their own sense of playing by the rules and fair play, and paying what they owe under the tax laws," he said.

Scholars who study taxpayers' behavior and honesty agree that stories of corruption could be influencing taxpayer attitudes. They also note that state amnesty programs and state campaigns to stamp out tax shelters may be getting attention.

"It does seem that there's a sense of increased social responsibility that's emerging there," said Steven Sheffrin, dean of the social sciences division at the University of California at Davis.

Students recall ads better than news from Channel One

Students remember more of the advertising than they do the news stories shown on Channel One, the daily public affairs program shown in 12,000 U.S. schools, a study has found.

Students reported buying - or having their parents buy - teen-oriented products advertised on the show, including fast food and video games, researchers said.

Schools that agree to show Channel One on 90 percent of school days receive free televisions and satellite dishes, a deal critics say turns students into a captive audience for advertisers. Nearly 8-million students see the program, according to Channel One's parent company, Primedia.

"The benefits of having Channel One in schools seem to have some real costs that should create an ethical dilemma for schools," said study co-author Erica Austin of Washington State University. The study appears Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Channel One CEO Judy Harris questioned whether the students' purchases were influenced exclusively by Channel One ads or by other advertising and the preferences of their peers.

--Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

[Last modified March 7, 2006, 01:14:20]

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