Right-wing media are steeped in a widespread misinformation campaign about part of the Biden administration’s budget blueprint, spinning a proposed financial disclosure requirement to claim the government is spying on individuals.
The narrative appears to have originated from a Daily Mail article, which was then picked up by Infowars and has since spread throughout right-wing media, including Fox News, right-wing influencers and politicians, as well as more fringe platforms, including 4chan and Telegram.
The misinformation relates to the Biden administration’s budget proposal for the 2022 fiscal year, released this past May. The bulk of the proposal consists of the president’s economic agenda, including increased infrastructure and social safety net spending. It also includes mechanisms to pay for these programs, explained in depth in a Treasury Department paper released at the same time.
Right-wing media have latched onto one of the suggested revenue-raising mechanisms to falsely claim the Biden administration is using the Internal Revenue Service to spy on ordinary Americans. The proposed mechanism would require financial institutions to disclose “annual gross account inflows and outflows” of accounts holding more than $600 or those that make transactions greater than $600.
As Chuck Marr of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, the proposal is designed to target tax evasion by high-income earners.
The low $600 threshold makes it difficult for them to hide income across multiple bank accounts, and it would empower the IRS to more effectively target auditing toward those making a lot of money. The Treasury Department specifies that “audit rates will not rise relative to recent years for those with less than $400,000 in actual income.” The proposed new disclosure is designed to protect privacy and would be required of financial institutions, not individual taxpayers, Marr explained. This may shed light on why banking lobbyists have come out in full force against it, with the Republican Party and its propaganda arm in tow.
Fox News is all in on the misleading narrative. Some Fox personalities are misleadingly spinining the proposal as “surveillance” while others are outright lying that the IRS will monitor each expenditure of $600, as opposed to annual total inflows and outflows on the account:
- Host Mark Levin falsely claimed the IRS will to “monitor all bank accounts as well as PayPal, Venmo, Cash App, etc., any transactions of $600” and wants “to squeeze you. They want to audit you.”
- Host Maria Bartiromo described the proposed regulation as “bank surveillance.”
- Anchor Martha MacCallum misleadingly said the reporting would “track anything over $600 that goes in or out of your bank account,” adding, “That’s creepy.”
- Host Dan Bongino claimed the proposal is “all about control” but promised “people are waking up, red pills are dropping everywhere.” And he urged people to “say no to the IRS spying on your bank account.”
- Anchor Dana Perino said, “While you’re spending your money, Democrats want the IRS to know all about it," adding, "The tax man could soon be spying on your bank accounts.”
- Fox Business’ Larry Kudlow described the proposal as “snooping” in an interview with Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who described the IRS as a “gestapo agency.”
- In a live report from Capitol Hill, Fox’s Aishah Hasnie, a supposed “straight news” correspondent, incorrectly claimed the proposal “might affect you at home” and told the audience to “keep an eye on the IRS because they’re watching you.” She also falsely suggested the IRS will track individual expenses, when in reality the proposed rule would track annual gross transations.
Predictably, the far-right conspiracy network One America News has taken a similar position. Host Stephanie Hamill asked her guest, “What do you make of this? Apparently the IRS wants to snoop on your bank account, that is if you’re making transactions of over $600 now. You know, I thought we had, like, a Fourth Amendment.”
And on September 13, host Natalie Harp called the proposal “truly disturbing” and said Democrats want to create “a database on all of us that can be hacked.”
Even closer to the bottom of the barrel, right-wing media blogs including The Epoch Times and Just the News are pushing the same misleading narrative, which has also been spotted on extremists platforms including 4chan, Gab, and Telegram. Alarmingly, the gun lobby is taking up the cause as well. The Firearm Industry Trade Association published a blog explaining “Why gun buyers should be concerned about IRS proposal to monitor purchases above $600.”
Amid all of this handwringing, a key detail is being cleverly omitted: While the reporting requirement was included in Biden’s proposed budget, House Democrats chose to exclude the measure in their reconciliation package. It is not currently being considered by Congress.