Newsletter

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%.

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Just the FACTs: May 19, 2017

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.

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Just the FACTs: April 12, 2017

Last April, the world’s attention was captured by a global investigation revealing more than 11 million documents from a Panamanian law firm documenting a secret financial network reserved for the wealthy and corrupt.  Now, one year later, the “Panama Papers” was just awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting, while experts are reflecting on how far we’ve come and how much farther we really need to go.  There is no doubt that the “Panama Papers” release reverberated throughout the world, but—with the extent of the problem the information exposed—it’s clear not enough has been done.

In a statement marking the the anniversary, FACT’s Gary Kalman graded the global response to the Panama Papers a “C-”, calling the progress “more scattershot than comprehensive.”  Though some real progress has been made, more must be done, especially when it comes to ending the abuse of anonymous companies.  In a blog that followed, he further reflected on this past year and made a prediction for the future—saying he is optimistic that, by the next anniversary, our grade will improve.

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Just the FACTs: March 24, 2017

The use of tax haven loopholes by multinational companies costs American taxpayers more than $130 billion per year.  Outright tax evasion by wealthy individuals drains an additional $35 billion annually.  At a time when budgets are being slashed and taxpayers are being asked to forgo much-needed services, Congress should be working to protect taxpayers with real tax reform that addresses the real problem.  Unfortunately, the proposed House tax reform blueprint doubles down on loopholes that facilitate the gaming of the tax code.

Even if the proposed House tax reform package were effective at ending the gaming — it isn’t — its effects on many would still be devastating.  According to the architect of the plan, Alan Auerbach, the blueprint’s currency adjustment will cause U.S. investments in foreign assets to plummet by 20%, at a cost of nearly $2 trillion.  Other researchers estimate the cost at nearly $5 trillion.

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Just the FACTs: March 10, 2017

Anonymous companies have opened the U.S. real estate market to the corrupt and criminal.  Towers of Secrecy, a series in the New York Times, started highlighting the abuse of these companies through opaque real estate deals back in 2015.  What they found was shocking: a Malaysian kleptocrat allegedly using US real estate to launder over $1 billion in stolen funds, a developer shielded from accountability while ignoring zoning laws, and people being defrauded from their homes with no hope for recourse.

Partially inspired by the series, last January, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department, announced Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) aimed at uncovering these secret deals. The GTOs required U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons, or beneficial owners, behind shell companies used to pay “all cash” for luxury real estate in the Miami and New York metropolitan areas for a six-month period. The GTOs were extended and expanded to the Los Angeles, San Antonio, San Diego, and San Francisco areas in July.

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Just the FACTs: February 22, 2017

Somewhere on a long list of plagues caused by corruption is terrorism.  Yet, congress and the president just used a controversial resolution to void an important bi-partisan anti-corruption safeguard, known as Cardin-Lugar. The provision—sponsored by former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)—protects U.S. national security and combats corruption in developing countries (particularly those plagued by extremist violence and conflict) by requiring oil, gas, and mining companies which report to the Securities and Exchange Commission to publicly report all payments made to host-governments.  Nullifying the safeguard has been met with bipartisan opposition from anti-corruption experts.

FACT, issued a statements and blog posts defending the landmark anti-corruption measure, which included a letter sent to members of Congress. The letter targeted one of the major arguments for repeal—the suggestions that it disadvantages U.S. companies—by explaining that 30 other countries—including Norway, Canada, and all 28 members of the European Union—have instituted the same disclosure requirements on extractive companies.  This means that over 90 percent of internationally operating companies in the extractives sector are covered by these transparency measures.

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Just the FACTs: December 22, 2016

2016 is coming to an end.  This year has certainly been an eventful one—we have witnessed  several document leaks revealing the closely guarded secrets of the offshore world, and a divisive election where the issue of tax avoidance and offshore loopholes were highlighted by both campaigns.

In April, the Panama Papers gave us 14.5 million documents exposing the offshore dealings of the ultra-wealthy, transnational criminals, multinational companies, and even world leaders.  One question often asked when the documents were released “where are the Americans?” the answer simply is that Americans don’t need to go abroad to set up anonymous shell companies.  It is, unfortunately, much easier for Americans to set them up onshore—in states like Nevada, Wyoming, and Delaware.

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Just the FACTs: December 9, 2016

For more than a decade we have seen a steep climb in the amount of money kept offshore by multinational companies.  This has resulted in $2.5 Trillion to remain untaxed—at an estimated cost of $700 billion to the US Treasury.  Throughout the 2016 election, both presidential candidates pledged to close loopholes that allow corporations to dodge taxes and stop companies from booking their profits overseas.  Though the follow-through has yet to be seen.  Many have even argued that Donald Trump’s victory was the result of a frustrated middle class that increasingly feels over-burdened, while they see the wealthy and corporations—following their own set of rules—shifting their responsibilities onto them.

A new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund finds that multinational companies dodge an estimated $147 billion in federal and state taxes annually through offshore tax haven loopholes, shifting that burden instead onto small businesses and individual taxpayers.  Titled “Picking Up the Tab 2016: Small Businesses Bear the Burden for Offshore Tax Havens,” the study estimates that each small business, on average, owes $5,186 more on its annual tax bill to collectively make up for the federal and state corporate tax revenue lost to offshore tax havens.

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Just the FACTs: November 28, 2016

Increasingly the issues of tax avoidance and financial secrecy are drawing the attention of a broader audience.  Both issues were repeatedly mentioned throughout the presidential election by both candidates.  Donald Trump’s original tax plan even went as far as to end deferral, though updates to the plan in September omitted any position on it.  With the results of the election in, FACT and our members are analyzing what they mean for reform here at home.  More on that in the weeks to come.

The EU commission’s decision in August to force Apple to pay back $14 billion in dodged taxes to Ireland served as a wake-up call to many investors—tax avoidance is a serious risk.  A recent article in the Financial Times, explained how several major funds and investment groups are deeply concerned with companies’ increasing reliance on tax avoidance schemes.  One such fund, Nordea Asset Management—has written to a number of companies—including Alphabet and Apple.  In the letter, they ask that companies lay out their tax risks and that—if they don’t comply by January—they “will rally other investors and propose shareholder resolutions in 2017.”  Four other fund houses in the UK—representing almost £1tn of assets—have also written to the board of Alphabet to raise concerns about its tax arrangements.

 

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Just the FACTs: October 18, 2016

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how the tax system is rigged.  More and more we are seeing that wealthy individuals and powerful multinational companies are able to play by their own set of rules.  According to a new report by FACT members Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), and U.S. PIRG, Fortune 500 companies are now holding $2.5 trillion offshore. By shifting their profits to tax havens, these U.S. companies have been able to avoid $718 billion in taxes. The legal loopholes that allow these companies to avoid their taxes are simply unavailable to average taxpayers and small businesses, who can’t afford to hire the lawyers and accountants to move money through shell companies created in tax havens.

The U.S. Treasury Department took a modest step toward countering corporate tax avoidance Thursday night by issuing a new rule aimed at preventing a tax dodging technique known as “earnings stripping.” While FACT members are still in the process of reviewing the 518-page measure, the rule is estimated to close about $600 million per year in offshore tax avoidance loopholes.

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