Territorial: The Hidden Danger Beneath the Tax Rate Debate

By Jacob Wills

Our tax system is fundamental to our democracy, delineating who pays the costs of a functioning civilization. But the system is broken, leaving an undeniable imbalance between the working and middle-classes and the wealthy and multinational companies. It would seem to follow then that the focus of tax reform should be around correcting this imbalance by targeting those that have gamed the system and flagrantly avoided taxation. Yet, the priority for Congress and the administration seems to be to exacerbate tax avoidance with greater incentives for shifting profits offshore.

There is currently $2.6 trillion booked offshore — untaxed — by multinational companies. This is the result of a gaping loophole for multinationals known as deferral, where a company can delay paying taxes until the profits are “repatriated” to the U.S. The administration has frequently cited this number as a reason our tax code needs “reform,” and, on that point, there is broad agreement. Our tax system undoubtedly needs reform, though, their solution—to simply not tax offshore profits—misses the point.


The Anonymous Companies That Protect Human Traffickers

By Allison Agoglia

Human trafficking is one of the most insidious crimes in our world today.  It’s a business that profits on depriving basic rights — buying and selling them for forced labor or sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, it is the third-or fourth-largest illegal industry in the world (depending on how one measures) — and one that is growing rapidly.  It is estimated to amount to $150 billion in profits each year while keeping 21 million people in slavery — at least that we know of.

Human traffickers hide in the shadows, making them extremely elusive to authorities. Vanessa Chauhan, a strategic engagement adviser at Polaris and FACT Coalition member, says, “It’s a hidden crime and unless you’re looking for it, you’re not going to find it.”  To remain hidden, some traffickers use illicit schemes, including complex webs of anonymous companies, that allow them to quietly launder the proceeds from their illicit activity and shield them from accountability.


The Tax Giveaway That Left Thousands Without Pay

By Amy Zhang

A 2004 Offshore Tax Holiday Left 600,000 Jobless. A Decade Later, Congress Is at Risk of Making the Same Mistake

In 2004, the grass seemed greener on the other side — overseas where multinational corporations kept stashing profits.  A corporate tax policy (known as “deferral”) allows U.S. corporations to defer taxes on their profits booked offshore until they are returned to the U.S.  By 2004, deferral had led to a cash hoard of $527 billion, equivalent to 4.3 percent of GDP, amassing offshore.

Back then, President Bush signed the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (AJCA) believing that bringing home the stockpiles of cash would mean huge jobs and growth here in the U.S. The act provided a “tax holiday,” allowing corporations to return their deferred profits at an astonishingly low 5.25 percent — instead of the statutory 35% rate.

Companies — including Pfizer, Merck & Co., Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, and IBM — immediately took advantage.  Together, these five corporate giants repatriated $88 billion from their offshore accounts located in well-known tax havens such as Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas. According to the IRS, some 843 companies followed suit resulting in the repatriation of $312 billion in qualified earnings.  In total, the companies received $265 billion in tax deductions between 2004 to 2006.


From Pakistan to Park Lane via Panama

By Naomi Hirst

How Prime Minister Sharif’s Family Used Anonymous Companies

Over a year on and the effect of the Panama Papers continues to reverberate.

 Last week, the leaks claimed another political scalp: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has removed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office. The leaks showed how Sharif and his children were linked to prestigious Park Lane apartments in London through a complex web of anonymously owned British Virgin Island (BVI) companies.

Treasury Toying with Making Tax Avoidance Easier

By Michelle Surka

Sometimes the long drive towards a more equitable and reasonable tax system feels like it’s one step forward, two steps back.

This month, the two steps back we risk taking come in the form of unraveling a Treasury rule established under the Obama administration. Thanks to an executive order from the Trump administration, Section 385 is currently being reviewed by the Treasury Department. The rule takes aim at curbing corporate tax haven abuse — the hallmark of a tax system rigged for the few biggest multinational corporations. Preliminary estimates from Treasury found that it’s impact on offshore tax avoidance would be significant considering that the rule would raise $7.4 billion over 10 years.


A Simple Step to Address a Far-Reaching Problem

By Gary Kalman

Today, Senators Whitehouse, Grassley, and Feinstein and Representatives Maloney, King, Royce, Waters, and Moore introduced a bipartisan bill to end the use of anonymous shell companies.  If passed by Congress and signed by the President, the measure would disrupt the global system for money laundering used by corrupt public officials, terrorists, drug cartels, human trafficking operations, and others and provide leadership to the international move toward transparency.


World Leaders Gathered for Another Paris Agreement, and the U.S. Was Noticeably Absent

By Jacob Wills

Tell me if you’ve heard this before:  Nations from around the world gathered in Paris to sign a multilateral agreement that had been negotiated over several years with the U.S. as a leading partner.   In the end, the U.S. was conspicuously absent from the ceremony and did not sign onto the final agreement.

I, of course, am referring to an effort to combat aggressive corporate tax avoidance and address the wealth-draining concerns over the growth of tax havens. See FACT’s statement on the event.  The agreement was a part of the multilateral initiative on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) negotiated through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Over seventy countries moved forward with an agreement to combat tax avoidance by amending bilateral tax treaties.


EU to Vote on Public Tax Disclosure

By Jacob Wills

In a post Panama Papers world, secrecy seems to be losing its caché.   Public officials and the citizens they represent express increasing frustration with the hidden finances of powerful multinational companies and the ultra-wealthy.

In recent months, tax enforcement in the European Union (EU) has been stepped up with cases accusing tax haven countries of providing illegal state aid, aggressive tax avoidance strategies are being challenged and there is a promising push for greater financial transparency and accountability.


Tax Avoiding Companies Well-Represented at Tax Reform Hearing

By Richard Phillips

Today the House Ways and Means Committee will hold its first tax reform hearing of 2017, which marks the official opening of the tax reform debate in Congress. True tax reform, if the committee sought to achieve it, could create more jobs and ensure companies are paying their fair share by cracking down on the massive offshore tax avoidance that companies engage in. Unfortunately, the panel of witnesses for today’s hearing is largely made up of representatives of various major corporations that are beneficiaries of the loopholes in our current corporate tax laws. Given this, it seems likely that these panelists will not push for a fairer corporate tax code, but rather a code that allows them to avoid even more taxes and incentivizes moving more jobs offshore.

The biggest tax avoider represented at the hearing is AT&T, which received $38 billion in tax breaks over the past eight years, meaning that it received more tax breaks than any other Fortune 500 company during that time. Over the past 10 years, the company managed to pay an average federal income tax rate of just 11.3 percent, less than a third of the statutory rate of 35 percent. In 2011, it managed to pay nothing in federal income taxes, despite earning $12 billion in profits.


First Gambit in Tax Reform Debate a Threat to Taxpayers

By Michelle Surka

A Recent Executive Order Threatens to Roll Back Safeguards against Offshore Tax Avoidance

The tax reform battle in Congress is looking to be a long, hard-fought one, but the president’s recent executive order shows that there may be no need to wait to start giving huge tax breaks to corporate giants.

The executive order, signed late last month, calls on the Treasury Department to review all “significant” tax regulations issued on or after January 1, 2016. Included in this window are rules curtailing earnings stripping and corporate inversions for the purpose of tax avoidance.