How a Dozen Multinational Corporations Spent a Billion Dollars on Lobbying and Campaign Contributions and Avoided Paying Taxes

Twelve large American corporations have been identified by news reports, nonprofit organizations, and elected officials as paying little or no federal income taxes. Collectively, these one dozen corporate tax dodgers have benefited dramatically – in tax loopholes, bailouts, and subsidies – from the more than $1 billion dollars they have invested into influencing Washington. As Americans pay their taxes this month, it is important to understand that our political system lets these corporations off the hook while the rest of us foot the bill.

Background

Every year, Americans work hard to earn enough to both support their families and pay their taxes – an effort that gets increasingly difficult due to declining wage standards and an increasingly complex tax code. Roads, armies, and social welfare all cost money, and we all must bear the burden to ensure that America can continue to fulfill its destiny year after year. But having spent the first three months of the year earning enough just to settle their tax bills,1 average Americans have a right to be angry upon learning that some of the country’s largest corporations aren’t paying any federal income tax at all—despite making billions in profit. At a time when Congress and the President are slashing government spending with budget cuts that strike at the middle class and most vulnerable, Americans want to know why big corporations aren’t paying their fair share. And they want to know why the people elected to represent the people have let it happen.

Unfortunately, the truth is that not only did Congress permit corporations to get away without paying – they caused it to happen by passing a series of loopholes and gimmicks for multinational corporations that allow them to shelter profits in overseas business entities. According to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), eighty-three of the 100 largest publicly traded U.S. corporations utilize such tax havens to reduce their U.S. tax liability.2 Ironically, these accounting tricks aren’t available for companies that only do business in the United States, so Congress in effect is providing tax incentives to ship jobs overseas and dismantle the middle class.

These tax loopholes didn’t happen by accident. They developed as a result of a consistent campaign of lobbying and political contributions by big corporations that can afford to throws millions of dollars around Washington each year. Much of this effort was targeted at the two congressional committees responsible for writing tax laws: the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

To shed light on this story, Public Campaign analyzed the lobbying expenses and political contributions of 12 large, well-known corporations, their political action committees (PACs), and their executives. These 12 corporations were chosen because they have been identified by news reports, nonprofits, and elected officials as egregious corporate tax dodgers. It should be noted that what these large corporations are doing to avoid tax payments is perfectly legal. But as we have often noted about our campaign finance laws, the scandal is what is legal, not illegal.

It won’t come as any surprise that we found that the dozen tax dodging corporations invested heavily in Washington politics. While the extent to which these corporations and their executives spent is not knowable – corporations and wealthy executives regularly give to trade associations and political organizations without disclosing the donations – Public Campaign’s analysis found that the dozen corporations, their PACs, and executives spent more than $1 billion over the last ten years to influence Washington.

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