Just the FACTs: May 19, 2017

Welcome to our “Just the FACTs” newsletter, which aims to highlight pertinent news stories and information related to our goals of curtailing offshore tax haven abuses, increasing the transparency of company ownership, and curbing the laundering of illicit money through the financial system.

Send feedback or items for future newsletters to Jacob Wills at jwills@nullthefactcoalition.org.


State of Play

Profits booked offshore are growing at an even faster pace than previously predicted. Earlier this month, Apple made waves when it disclosed that of its more than $250 billion in cash worldwide, $239 billion is kept offshore.  Some of the growth in cash booked offshore is likely due to the perception that Congress and the administration are inching ever closer to a deal that would allow these companies to return the money at a steep discount.

One plan presented by Democratic Representative John Delaney equates to a corporate hand-out of nearly $550 billion.  In a recent blog, the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy analyzes the plan disguised as a pay-for for infrastructure spending.  There is no doubt with a backlog of $836 billion in much-needed repairs, investments in infrastructure need more funding. However, as ITEP argues, this plan will only make the problem of inadequate revenue worse.

Others argue that corporate tax dodgers should pay full freight on what they owe on untaxed profits.  In an op-ed in the Other 98, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) made the case for the “Tax Fairness and Transparency Act”, as an alternative to not only fund infrastructure but “our schools, emergency services… and our national defense programs.”  According to an op-ed by Fair Share’s Nathan Proctor, 80% of Americans agree.

The White House recently released its own plan to reform the corporate tax code. Or at least an outline of a plan. The signature reform is a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%.  The outline also suggests a structural change to the tax code where companies would no longer pay taxes on their profits booked offshore.  In a statement released shortly after the outline, FACT’s Clark Gascoigne argued that this feature would likely lead to an increase in capital flight as multinationals shift as much of their profits as possible to offshore tax havens with a 0% tax rate — disadvantaging domestic companies and small businesses.

Clark notes that the White House outline sets up a system where “the pizza shop in Iowa would still pay a higher tax rate than GE or Google.”  Main Street Alliance recently rejected political arguments that use small businesses as shields for corporate tax dodgers.  In US PIRG’s statement they argued that in the President’s tax plan, “tax loopholes and tax haven abuse wouldn’t just be a flaw in our tax system, they would be a built-in feature.”

There is no doubt that we need tax reform, but at the very least any proposal should not make offshore tax dodging easier.


From the FACT Coalition and Its Partner

Incorporation Transparency

 

The Panama Papers – One Year Later

The 1a, April 13, 2017

By Clark Gascoigne, Jake Bernstein, Kevin G. Hall, and Marina Walker Guevara  

The team behind the publication of the Panama Papers in 2016 has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its work. The leaked documents from an offshore accounting firm uncovered a huge international tax scam, global corruption and money laundering. A year later, the Panama Papers are still having an effect on international banking practices and government officials worldwide.

Listen to the full podcast


Illicit Financial Flows to and from Developing Countries: 2005-2014

Global Financial Integrity, May 1, 2017

By Joseph Spanjers, Matthew Salomon

Titled “Illicit Financial Flows to and from Developing Countries: 2005-2014,” the report is the first global study at GFI to equally emphasize illicit outflows and inflows. Each is found to have remained persistently high over the period between 2005 and 2014. Combined, these outflows and inflows are estimated to account for between 14.1 and 24.0 percent of developing country trade, on average.

Read the full report
Full report data
Policy recommendations
Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project article
FirstPost article


Banking On Secrecy

Kleptocracy Initiative, April 21, 2017

By Casey Michel

Shell company formation in the U.S. doesn’t simply allow some of the world’s foremost foreign kleptocrats to store their ill-gotten gains abroad. Nor does it solely allow the kleptocrats to mask such wealth from investigators both domestic and international. Rather, the American shell company industry – and the states like Delaware, Wyoming, and Nevada that gorge on the revenues of anonymous company formation, despite Washington’s prior commitments – has, through its interactions with the American finance industry, made it that much more difficult to pursue the types of anti-money laundering (AML) regulations Washington has set forth.

Read the full blog


Tax

Tax Reform Hearing Stacked with Multinational Tax Dodgers

FACT Coalition, May 18, 2017

Experts Concerned that Tax Avoiders Propagate Skewed Perspective on Tax Policy

The House Ways and Means Committee kicked off the public tax reform debate Thursday with a hearing stacked with executives from multinational companies — including many offshore tax dodgers.  Clark Gascoigne, the deputy director of the FACT Coalition, issued the following statement:

“This event underscores why Congress is so out-of-touch with the American people. When the only voices you hear are those of offshore tax dodgers, you might have a skewed perspective on how to improve the tax code for honest taxpayers.”

Read the full statement
Read the ITEP statement on the hearing
Read the ITEP blog on the hearing.


First Gambit in Tax Reform Debate a Threat to Taxpayers

FACT Coalition, May 10, 2017

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.

Read the full blog
Read the ITEP blog on the executive order.


Tax Plan Would Accelerate Offshore Tax Dodging

FACT Coalition, April 26, 2017

Statement by FACT Coalition on White House’s Tax Reform Outline

The Administration released an outline today of its plan to reform the corporate tax code.  The signature reform is a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%.  The plan further states that profits already booked offshore would get a special, one-time rate — likely much lower than the statutory rate.  The U.S. would move from a system in which companies pay taxes on all their profits to a system in which they pay only on profits they book to domestic subsidiaries.

Read the full FACT statement
Read U.S. PIRG’s statement
Read the AFL-CIO blog on the plan


On Tax Day, Tax Haven Lobby Advocating for Tax Cheats

FACT Coalition, April 18, 2017

Congress Should Reject Tax Haven Lobby’s Push to Repeal FATCA Transparency Measure

As millions of Americans head to the post office today — this year’s deadline for filing individual tax returns — there is a stepped-up effort to make it easier for some to illegally evade paying their taxes.  A relatively small but influential group is advocating for the repeal of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), a landmark transparency measure.  On April 6, Senator Rand Paul and Representative Mark Meadows introduced bills to repeal FATCA.  We expect hearings on the bills in the near future.

Read the full press release


Tax Day for You, Tax Holiday for Multinationals

FACT Coalition, April 18, 2017

By Michelle Surka

State Legislators are Increasingly Stepping in to Combat Offshore Tax Haven Abuse

It’s Tax Day. Odds are, you’ve already filed your taxes. Maybe you filed through a tax filing software, or maybe you hired an accountant to help you puzzle through the deductions you might be eligible for. Or, maybe you filed yourself, old-school-style, filling out your 1040 in your kitchen. Or, maybe you forgot, and this blog will serve as a last-second reminder—go file your taxes!

All of this is to say: you’ve fulfilled your tax responsibilities.  No doubt, the biggest corporations have filed theirs’s too.   But, unlike you, they have an army of accountants to ensure they take advantage of every last loophole and gimmick to cut down on their tax liability to near nothing.

Read the full blog


Big-League Tax Dodging

Oxfam America & FACT Coalition, April 17, 2017

By Robbie Silverman

The U.S.’s top 50 public corporations have $1.6 trillion stashed offshore, and current tax reform proposals by President Trump and Congressional leadership will only make the problem worse

This week, millions of Americans are filing their tax returns and mailing Uncle Sam a check.   At the same time, the 50 biggest public companies in the U.S., including Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, GE, Chevron, Walmart, and Apple, are avoiding taxes while their huge pile of offshore cash grows.

In a new report called “Rigged Reform” Oxfam used corporate financial, lobbying, and investor disclosures to reveal that the 50 largest U.S. companies used an opaque and secretive network of at least 1,751 subsidiaries in tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

Read the full blog
Oxfam America blog


The Tax (Avoidance) Day is Approaching

FACT Coalition, April 14, 2017

By Yaroslav Pustarnakov

Though they probably don’t all agree on every detail, most Americans see paying taxes as a civic duty.  Even so, it’s unlikely very many enjoy the paperwork and stress involved with Tuesday’s looming tax deadline. With few days left to go, millions of Americans are sitting down to get everything just right, and make sure they are paying what they owe—and not a penny more.

Wanting to minimize your tax liability is not unreasonable. Less reasonable is spending billions lobbying congress to create loopholes to be exploited in order to avoid nearly all of the taxes you would have otherwise been required to pay.  Playing within the rules to reduce liability is one thing, but actively changing the rules of the game to eliminate liability altogether — while middle-class Americans and small businesses pay full fare — is objectively unfair.

Read the full blog


Representative John Delaney’s Bills Take the Wrong Approach on Funding Infrastructure

ITEP, May 9, 2017

By Richard Phillips

Lawmakers across the political spectrum recognize the need for additional spending to maintain and upgrade our nation’s transportation infrastructure. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there is a backlog of $836 billion in needed repairs and improvements to roads and bridges and an additional $90 billion backlog of public transit projects.

Maryland Democratic Representative John Delaney has been one of the most vocal lawmakers in the debate over funding infrastructure and has recently proposed two bills seeking to significantly increase spending on these critical needs. Unfortunately, rather than just funding infrastructure, both of Rep. Delaney’s bills would make the problem of inadequate revenue worse by giving away billions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations.

Read the full blog


Apple: A Case Study in Why a Tax Holiday for Offshore Cash is Indefensible

ITEP, May 4, 2017

By Matt Gardner

The Apple corporation made waves earlier this week with its disclosure that its worldwide cash now exceeds $250 billion.  Less noticed was a separate disclosure on Wednesday that the company’s offsore cash now exceeds $239 billion, meaning that more than 93 percent of the company’s cash is now held—at least on paper—abroad. This represents an increase of $9.4 billion in the past three months, sending a clear signal that the company continues funneling money offshore to avoid U.S. taxes on a scale unmatched by any other U.S. company.

Read the full blog


Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA): A Critical Anti-Tax Evasion Tool

ITEP, May 2, 2017

For years, a subset of the well-to-do and well-connected have been able to exploit the intricacies of our global financial system to shelter their income and investments from taxation. The U.S. government took a stand against this type of willful tax evasion with the passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act – or FATCA – enacted as part of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act of 2010.

FATCA is a financial disclosure and transparency law, conceived as a tool to help the U.S. government crackdown on tax evasion by U.S. taxpayers who hold investments in offshore accounts. FATCA has since become a model for international efforts to curb tax evasion and improve financial transparency.

Read the full report
Read pdf of the report
Read one page fact sheet on FATCA
Read ITEP’s blog


People Want Corporations To Pay Their Fair Share in Taxes

Boston Globe, April 21, 2017

By Nathan Proctor

Gallup recently found that 61 percent of Americans feel their own tax rate is fair — the highest mark in years, and a far cry from the 45 percent of Americans who felt the same before tax cuts early in the George W. Bush administration.

Read the full op-ed


Tax Day 2017: Taxes and All the Feels

National Priorities Project, April 18, 2017

By Nora Ranney

If you are like me, Tax Day always comes with some emotion – be it anxiety (did I do it right?), panic (I’m not done!), or going postal (where are my damn stamps and why am I in this line?).

Then there’s how I feel about where my tax dollars actually go. NPP’s Tax Dollar is the kind of practical research that brought me here in the first place, and that our partner organizations rely on to share with their members, representing a myriad of issues and movements.  (Just saying.)

Read the full blog


We Need Tax Reform That Works for Working People

AFL-CIO, April 17, 2017

By AFL-CIO Staff  

Tomorrow, Americans will fulfill our civic duty of paying taxes to a system that is far from perfect or fair. As Congress reportedly is working on a plan to reform it, the AFL-CIO has a simple framework for what a serious proposal should include and what should not be included. These are the standards we will judge it by…

Read the full blog


Fifteen (of Many) Reasons We Need Corporate Tax Reform

ITEP, April 13, 2017

Companies from Various Sectors Use Legal Maneuvers to Avoid Taxes

Profitable Fortune 500 companies in a range of economic sectors have been remarkably successful in manipulating the tax system to avoid paying even a dime in tax on billions of dollars in U.S. profits. This ITEP report examines a select, diverse group of 15 corporations’ tax situations to shed light on the widespread nature of corporate tax avoidance. As a group, these companies paid no federal income tax on $21 billion in profits in 2016, and they paid almost no federal income tax on $111 billion in profits over the past five years. All but one received federal tax rebates in 2016, and almost all paid exceedingly low rates over five years.

Read the full report


Small Businesses Shouldn’t Pay a Higher Tax Rate Than Multinational Corporations

The Main Street Alliance, April 15, 2017

By Angela Simaan

“The playing field is already skewed heavily in favor of large corporations, making it hard for small businesses to compete.” said Amanda Ballantyne, National Director of Main Street Alliance. “Unlike their larger corporate counterparts, small business owners don’t shift their profits overseas to lower their tax liability. The Buffett Rule is a good guiding principle. Multinationals shouldn’t be paying tax at a lower rate than the small businesses that line Main Street.”

Read the full blog


With Tax Reform Looming, Small Business Owners Get Behind a Bill That Ends Offshoring

The Main Street Alliance, April 6, 2017

By Angela Simaan

The current tax code is riddled with loopholes that enable large, multinational corporations to avoid or evade paying taxes, which shifts their tax responsibilities to small businesses and average taxpayers. Today, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) introduced new tax legislation that aims to close those major offshore tax avoidance loopholes.

Read the full blog


Issues in the News

Incorporation Transparency

 

Why Nevada Doesn’t Care Where the Money Comes From and Never Will

Nevada Independent, April 20, 2017

By Hugh Jackson

Last week’s USA Today story about companies being secretly set up in Nevada to buy condos and other property from Donald Trump was a reminder: Nevada’s infamously lax incorporation laws allow anyone — terrorists, sex traffickers, arms dealers, Putin, people who want something from a corrupt president, etc. — to set up a shell company, not only to hide one’s identity, but also to avoid taxes or move dirty money around.

Read the full op-ed


Western Union to Pay $586 Million in Restitution and Civil Penalties for AML Compliance Failure

Lexology, April 20, 2017

By Sean C. Wagner and Nathan P. Viebrock

On Jan. 19, Western Union Financial Services, Inc. agreed to pay civil penalties and restitution to victims of fraud totaling $586 million to resolve actions brought by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act’s anti-money laundering requirements.

Read the full article


Business Leaders Back Ownership Transparency Post-Panama

Bloomberg BNA, April 13, 2017

By Andrea Vittorio

Business leaders that want to know more about who they’re doing business with are backing a new tool for tracking corporate ownership launched one year after the Panama Papers showed how anonymity can help hide wealth and avoid taxes.

Read the full article


Tax

Trump’s Proposed Tax Cut Could Open a Path to Widespread Avoidance

The New York Times, May 9, 2017

By Kate Kelly and Alan Rappeport

President Trump’s proposal to cut taxes is short on details. But some people can already see opportunities for widespread tax avoidance.

The problem: an across-the-board business tax of 15 percent intended not only for large multinational companies, but also for partnerships and sole proprietorships that are also known as pass-through businesses. Trump administration officials have said the proposed tax is a critical way to encourage hiring and investing in the United States by companies large and small.

Read the full article


Poll: Economists Reject Suggestions Trump Tax Plan Will Pay For Itself

Politico Pro, May 3, 2017

By Brian Faler

Economists surveyed by the University of Chicago overwhelmingly reject suggestions that President Donald Trump’s tax plan will pay for itself through increased growth.

Eighty-four percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the proposition that a stronger economy — and the increased tax receipts it would throw off — would likely make the numbers behind the administration’s plan work.

Read the full article


5 Key Questions on Trump’s Plans for ‘Maybe the Biggest Tax Cut’

The New York Times, April 25, 2017

By Alan Rappeport

President Trump stunned members of Congress, and his own Treasury Department, when he said last week that he would unveil a plan on Wednesday to deliver “maybe the biggest tax cut we’ve ever had.”

Read the full article


For the sake of American taxpayers, companies must pay their fair share

The Hill, April 18, 2017

By Former Senator Carl Levin

Where that willingness breaks down — and where it desperately needs fixing — is when corporations and wealthy individuals use gimmicks and tax loopholes to dodge paying their fair share, or, in some cases, to pay no taxes at all. That is an affront to hard-working, average Americans who need Congress to level the playing field. In fact, when Americans were asked in 2014 how best to strengthen our economy, the number one response was “ask the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share.”

Read the full op-ed


What if I Told You We Could Make Corporate Tax Dodgers Pay Up And Rebuild America?

The Other 98, April 14, 2017

By Representative Mark Pocan

This year’s tax filing deadline is only days away, and millions of hard-working families across the country are preparing to submit their forms and pay their fair share.

Read the full op-ed


Top Frustrations With Tax System: Sense That Corporations, Wealthy Don’t Pay Fair Share

Pew Research Center, April 14, 2017

Among the public overall, 62% say they are bothered “a lot” by the feeling that some corporations don’t pay their fair share of taxes, and 60% say the same about some wealthy people not paying their fair share.

Read the full research findings