Just the FACTs: August 22, 2019

As August recess wraps up, the prospect for action on beneficial ownership is becoming more likely. In June the Corporate Transparency Act (H.R. 2513) passed out of the House Financial Services Committee by a bipartisan vote of 43-16. It’s sister bill (S.1978) was introduced in the Senate. Two beneficial ownership transparency bills, the TITLE Act (S.1889) and a discussion draft of the ILLICIT CASH Act, have been the subject of hearings. FACT’s Executive Director Gary Kalman testified before the Senate Banking Committee in June to address, among other issues, the impact of legislation on small business.  He noted that “more than three quarters of small business owners felt the tradeoff — reporting burden vs. the prevention of unfair competition from anonymous shell companies  — was worth it.”


Just the FACTs: June 12, 2019

The Corporate Transparency Act (H.R. 2513), a bill to end the abuses of anonymous companies, went before the House Financial Services Committee for markup on June 11th. FACT voiced its support for the bill in a letter to the House Financial Services Subcommittee on National Security earlier this year. Over 100 other organizations signed a letter in support of the bill, more than double the number that sent a similar letter last year. In addition to the broad support collected of a decade, new letters came from the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), the Anti-Insurance Fraud Coalition, the American Land Title Association, over 60 national security experts and others.


Just the FACTs: March 27, 2019

This past week, FACT Coalition member Global Financial Integrity released a report with a comprehensive state-by-state comparison of what information is required to set up a company versus obtain a library card.  Astonishingly, in every state, far more personal information was needed to set up a library card than a company. This is especially startling when you realize the extent to which a company—without an accountable individual attached—could be used to commit crimes with impunity.

This report came just a week after the House Financial Services Committee’s subcommittee that covers national security issues held a hearing on corporate transparency and efforts to fight money laundering.  In the lead up to the hearing Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) released a discussion draft of the Corporate Transparency Act of 2019, which would require the collection of beneficial ownership information.  All the witnesses at the hearing supported the collection of beneficial ownership information as an important anti-corruption, anti-money-laundering tool. In fact, all but one witness who testified at hearings in this and the previous Congress in which corporate transparency was discussed have said that beneficial ownership disclosure was an important anti-money-laundering measure.  In a blog discussing this month’s hearing, FACT’s Gary Kalman encouraged lawmakers to this time listen to what the witnesses have to say.  Anti-human trafficking, faith, and law enforcement organizations also encouraged the committee to take action on anonymous companies.


Just the FACTs: July 18, 2018

After 2 years of bipartisan negotiations, without warning or fanfare, the leadership of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee stripped beneficial ownership provisions out of a bipartisan anti-money laundering bill and planned a Committee vote.

A decision was made to drop beneficial ownership because it was thought to be controversial and a stripped down bill would “pass easily.” However, as FACT’s executive director describes in this op-ed in the American Banker, that was simply not the case.


Just the FACTs: April 19, 2018

In January, we were optimistic that this would be the year anonymous companies would end.  Since then, the momentum for disclosure has only grown. Legal scholars and international affairs experts have recently called for action, a recent poll showed overwhelming support from small businesses, and a report from Fair Share reminded us that anonymous companies are continuing to fuel the opioid epidemic.  Between these and a recent investigation by Reuters that found Russians are using a web of anonymous companies to skirt U.S. sanctions and boost the government of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and the Hezbollah militia, the arguments for secrecy are becoming more and more invalid.


Just the FACTs: February 23, 2018

Movements to end anonymous shell companies exploded in 2017, already this year the momentum has ballooned.  With several committees in the House and Senate taking up the issue and a broad-based, bipartisan coalition calling for action, the previously elusive transparency measure is no longer a long-shot.

Two recently released reports exemplify why the momentum needs to continue.  The 2018 Financial Secrecy Index provides insight into secrecy jurisdictions globally and the Polaris Project’s report, Human Trafficking in Illicit Massage Businesses, reveals (among other things) how the abhorrent industry of sex trafficking is shielded behind anonymously registered businesses.


Just the FACTs: November 17, 2017

When the Panama Papers were released just a little over a year ago it sent shockwaves throughout the world.  The massive scale of the leak and the VIP’s that it implicated outraged a public that had already seen the wealthy and corporations as not paying their fair share.  Though, with all that the leak revealed, an important question was on everyone’s minds, where are the Americans?  This past week, it seems, we found them.

The Paradise Papers—a leak of 13 million documents from Appleby, a large offshore law firm—contains details on tax avoidance techniques of at least 31,000 U.S. citizens, residents and companies. This includes household names like Apple, Nike, and Uber.  While governments have moved to crack down on tax avoidance schemes, documents in the leak show how Apple and Nike were able to outrun regulators by exploiting gaps between differing tax codes.

Just a few days before the leak, House leaders released a tax plan that rewards companies for creating complicated tax avoidance structures like those found in the leak.  It is, in effect, a gift to the multinational companies that have dodged taxes for years by offshoring profits and jobs with an estimated $458 billion tax giveaway on the profits that are currently offshore.  In 2004, a similar measure was used in an effort to create jobs yet the multinationals who benefited most from the repatriation holiday slashed 20,000 U.S. jobs over the next two years.


Just The FACTS: August 21, 2017

More corrupt officials face consequences as reverberations from the Panama Papers continue. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has indefinitely disqualified the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from public service after the prime minister and his children were implicated in dubious real estate transactions in London. A subsequent investigation showed his family owned luxury real estate properties through anonymous companies. Based on their income, it was unlikely they could afford the properties, suggesting they were potentially hiding stolen assets and engaging in illicit financial practices. In a blog responding to the action taken by the supreme court, Global Witness’ Naomi Hirst noted this as an example of how anonymous companies are used to embolden corrupt officials and called on leaders to fulfill their promises to eliminate them.


Just the FACTS: July 27, 2017

Over the past several decades, anonymous shell companies have been at the heart of heinous crimes, including cases of grand corruptionhuman trafficking, and even the facilitation of the opioid epidemicDidier Jacobs of Oxfam America highlighted some of the blights of anonymous companies in a recent blogIn it, he describes how drug lords, corrupt politicians, and human traffickers are able to perform illegal acts while hidden from justice by a veil of anonymity. With shielded identities, criminals can effectively function above the law.


Just the FACTS: June 15, 2017

For the second time, Wells Fargo was found liable for a tax penalty in connection with an abusive tax shelter.  This points to a broader trend where companies’ abusive tax schemes are being exposed to increasing public discontent.  In the case of Wells Fargo, a jury in Minnesota had previously nixed $350 million in foreign tax credits finding that they “lacked both economic substance and a non-tax business purpose.” Now, a federal court has found them liable for a 20% negligence penalty from the IRS. The court’s decision is yet another example that the tax gimmicks employed by multinationals to inflate profits are becoming riskier.

In a blog, FACT’s Jacob Wills explained the current climate around tax fairness, “Scandals have shaken public confidence in the integrity and fairness of the tax system at a time when tightening budgets and increasing deficits are leading to calls for austerity and scaling back on long relied upon public services.”

It should be no surprise that tax avoidance schemes face increased scrutiny, a recent report suggests that the ultra-wealthy are dodging more in tax than many had previously estimated.   Economists Annette Alstadsæter, Niels Johannesen, and Gabriel Zucman took data from two tax haven leaks — the Panama Papers and Swiss leaks — in order to get more accurate estimates of tax evasion.  Their findings: the ultra-rich — on average — evade about 30% of their due taxes, compared to the average evasion rate of 2.9%.