Grassley, Iowa Could Stop Hidden Ownership

By Rebecca Wilkins

This article was originally published by The Des Moines Register.

Tax dodging by Google, Apple, and Starbucks, the Fifa corruption scandal. Medicare fraud, arms dealing, human trafficking, terrorism financing, and hidden campaign contributions. What ties these seemingly unrelated stories together? The use of tax havens and anonymous shell companies.

Tax evasion and avoidance using offshore tax havens is estimated to cost the U.S. Treasury $150 billion per year. Iowa, too, loses millions.

Billions more are lost to crime and corruption facilitated by the use of shell companies. Consider just a few of the stories from the Great Rip-Off report by Global Witness:

An Ohio school district employee used a web of fake companies to abuse his position and bill for millions of dollars’ worth of services that school kids never received; Texas lawyers used sham companies from Delaware and Nevada to trick elderly people into investing their life savings in worthless enterprises; the biggest of Mexico’s drug cartels used an anonymous Oklahoma company in a scheme to launder millions of dollars of drug money into the United States; and the Iranian government used an anonymous New York company to conceal its ownership of a 5th Avenue skyscraper, in direct breach of sanctions.

It all comes down to one simple fact: it is easier to set up an anonymous shell company in the United States than it is to get a driver’s license or register to vote. It’s time to change that.

There are several reasons why this issue is critical and timely:

  • Iowa is in a position to offer real leadership on this issue. The Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act is under the jurisdiction of the Senate Judiciary Committee and — as committee chair — Iowa’s own Sen. Chuck Grassley has the power to put the bill on the path to becoming law by scheduling it for a hearing and a vote. It is worth noting that Senator Grassley has been an original co-sponsor of this bill.
  • The caucuses offer an extra opportunity to bring attention and action to this issue.

We need a system of increased accountability with a public registry of the people who really control companies. It’s time to shut down the ability to hide the owners and bring them out of the shadows for everyone to see.

REBECCA J. WILKINS is the executive director of the FACT Coalition.

This article was originally published by The Des Moines Register.