Stop Shopping Tax Dodgers!

Some Corporations Are Moving Addresses Overseas To Dodge Paying Fair Share Of U.S. Taxes

walgreens

We talk a lot about the grave problem of inequality and how our economy is not working for most Americans. One of the causes of this big problem is that corporations and the wealthiest are taking advantage of the system, exploiting tax loopholes, and rigging the game to benefit themselves, often at the expense of everyone else. The latest tax-dodging tactic that some corporations are considering using is a perfect example of this rigged system–and demonstrates why we need our legislators to take decisive action to stop it.

What Is The Problem?
A loophole in the tax code essentially allows a corporation to renounce its corporate citizenship in the United States, move its address overseas by merging with a foreign company, and dodge its U.S tax obligations by paying most of its taxes to a foreign government with lower tax rates than the U.S. The process takes place primarily on paper — most corporate operations remain here. The corporations that do this want all the benefits of being an American company without paying their fair share of taxes. That makes the rest of us pick up the tab.

The practice has become known as “inversion.” But what it really amounts to is desertion. And it could cost Americans tens of billions of dollars.

Who Is Taking Advantage?
There are 47 firms in the last decade that have exploited this loophole, according to new data compiled by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. But it’s a hot topic again because at least a dozen U.S. firms are currently considering taking advantage of it.

One of those corporations is Walgreen. The company has always prided itself on being America’s go-to pharmacy: from 1993 to 2006, it had the slogans “The Pharmacy America Trusts” and “The Brand America Trusts.” A biography of the company is entitled, “America’s Corner Store: Walgreen’s Prescription For Success.” Walgreen chief executive Gregory D. Wasson has said the company is “proud of our Illinois heritage.”

At the same time, Walgreen is currently considering merging with European drugstore chain Alliance Boots and move to Switzerland as part of a plan to dodge up to $4 billion in U.S taxes. The company that gets almost a quarter of its $72 billion in revenue directly from the government through Medicare and Medicaid is trying to reap even more profits while leaving taxpayers holding the bag.

Walgreen isn’t the only one. Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, tried merging with the smaller U.K.-based AstraZeneca earlier this year and switch its address, where the tax rate is lower. It was estimated the move would save them at least $1 billion a year in tax obligations to the U.S. (the deal ultimately didn’t go through). Medtronic, a medical device company, plans to move its corporate address to Ireland, a tax haven, to avoid paying U.S. taxes on $14 billion. Chiquita, the banana distributor, is also heading to Ireland after acquiring Fyffes. These tax dodges, as Fortune magazine calls them in this week’s issue, are “positively un-American.”

What Can Be Done?
President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget proposes making these corporate desertions more difficult by raising the minimum levels of foreign ownership required to 50 percent (currently it is just 20 percent), which means that U.S. corporations could not move their address abroad unless they actually ceded a controlling interest to foreign owners. Congressional Democrats have made similar proposals. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recently called for more “economic patriotism” and urged Congress to “enact legislation immediately” to close the loophole. Leaders on both sides of the aisle want comprehensive tax reform, but finding common ground in the current Congress could take a while. The simple fact is that as more and more companies exploit this loophole, a solution for this problem is needed right away–and Congress has the power the solve it.

BOTTOM LINE: More and more corporations are taking advantage of a tax loophole that helps their bottom line while costing American taxpayers billions every year. These companies want to continue to take advantage of the things that make the U.S. the best place in the world to do business, while at the same time pay less than their fair share by moving their corporate addresses overseas. That desertion is unfair, unpatriotic, and has got to change.

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This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

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Too Big to Jail?

— an Op-Ed by Senator Bernie Sanders

We are supposed to be a country of laws. The laws should apply to Wall Street as well as everybody else. So I was stunned when our country’s top law enforcement official recently suggested it might be difficult to prosecute financial institutions that commit crimes because it may destabilize the financial system of our country and the world.

“I am concerned,” Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute — if we do bring a criminal charge — it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.”

The attorney general was talking about some of the same financial institutions that received billions, and in some cases trillions, of dollars in taxpayer bailouts after their greed, recklessness and illegal behavior plunged the country into a terrible recession. Over my opposition, Congress approved a $700 billion taxpayer bailout of financial institutions that were on the brink of collapse which some in Congress considered “too big to fail.”

In addition, the Federal Reserve provided over $16 trillion in total financial assistance to these same institutions during the financial crisis (which only became public after an amendment I inserted into the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act requiring the Fed to disclose this information).

The attorney general’s view seems to be that if you are just a regular person and you commit a crime, you go to jail. But if you are the head of a Wall Street company, your power is so great that a prosecution could have destabilizing consequences with national or even worldwide implications.

In other words, we have a situation now where Wall Street banks are not only too big to fail, they are too big to jail. That view is unacceptable.

The attorney general’s troubling acknowledgement has revived interest in an idea that is drawing more and more support. It is time to break up too big to fail financial institutions.

The 10 largest banks in the United States are bigger today than they were before a taxpayer bailout following the 2008 financial crisis.

U.S. banks have become so big that the six largest financial institutions in this country (J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) today have assets of nearly $9.6 trillion, a figure equal to about two-thirds of the nation’s gross domestic product. These six financial institutions issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards, over half of all mortgages, control 95 percent of all derivatives held in financial institutions and hold more than 40 percent of all bank deposits in the United States.

I will soon introduce legislation that would give the Treasury secretary 90 days to compile a list of commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds and insurance companies that the Treasury Department determines are too big to fail. The affected financial institutions would include “any entity that has grown so large that its failure would have a catastrophic effect on the stability of either the financial system or the United States economy without substantial government assistance.” Within one year after the legislation becomes law, the Treasury Department would be required to break up those banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions identified by the secretary.

Breaking up the too big to fail financial institutions is a notion that has drawn support from some leading figures in the financial community. Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, wrote this: “The safer the individual banks, the safer the financial system. The ultimate destination — an economy relatively free from financial crises — won’t be reached until we have the fortitude to break up the giant banks.” James Bullard, the head of the St. Louis Fed, also weighed in. “I do kind of agree that ‘too big to fail’ is ‘too big to exist.'” Thomas Hoenig, the former Kansas City Fed president, was an early supporter of the idea of breaking up big U.S. banks. “I think [too big to fail banks] should be broken up. And in doing so, I think you’ll make the financial system itself more stable. I think you will make it more competitive, and I think you will have long-run benefits over our current system, which leads to bailouts when crises occur.”

In my view, no single financial institution should be so large that its failure would cause catastrophic risk to millions of American jobs or to our nation’s economic well-being. No single financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure could send the world economy into crisis. And, perhaps most importantly, no institution in America should be above the law. We need to break up these institutions because of the tremendous damage they have done to our economy.

If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.