The Sunday release of the Paradise Papers has once again brought the issue of offshore tax avoidance to the forefront of public discussion. The papers expose the complex structures that companies such as Apple and Nike have pursued in recent years to pay little to nothing in taxes on their offshore earnings.
Yet even as these revelations make headlines, House Republicans are moving forward with major tax legislation, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, that would reward the worst tax avoiders and make it even easier for multinational companies to avoid taxes.
Recent revelations that a Bermuda law firm helped facilitate offshore tax avoidance has heightened awareness of the vast amount of income and wealth flowing into tax and secrecy havens worldwide. The countries through which this firm helped funnel global elites’ assets also act as tax havens for multinational corporations. Recently released data from the Internal Revenue Service show that U.S. corporations claim that 61 percent of their foreign subsidiaries’ pretax worldwide income is being earned in 10 tiny tax haven countries.
Following is a statement by Matthew Gardner, a senior fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, regarding the release of the “Paradise Papers,” a series of documents from Appleby, a leading offshore law firm. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released the investigative report today.
Nike earned more than $10 billion in U.S. profits from 2008 to 2015 but only paid 18.6 percent in U.S. federal taxes during this time. This is just over half of the official U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent.
Since Facebook became a public company, its annual revenues have increased by 250 percent from around $8 billion in 2013 to nearly $28 billion last year. In the same time period, the company’s before-tax profits shot up four-and-a-half fold to $12.5 billion. But in this time it has also managed to avoid billions of dollars in U.S. taxes.
Apple is the most valuable public company of all time with a market value of more than $800 billion. Last year, it cleared $45.7 billion[iii] in profits after taxes, making it the most profitable company in the Fortune 500 for the third straight year.
When you think of manufacturing, what comes to mind? According to the U.S. Congress, manufacturing may include things like the production of wrestling-rated films, assembling bouquets of flowers and even slicing cheesecake. These unusual definitions of manufacturing come from the domestic production activities deduction (better known as the manufacturing deduction), a tax break Congress created to encourage manufacturing in the United States.
When the Domestic Production Activities Deduction (DPAD) became law in 2004, proponents described it as a way to help American companies manufacture in the United States and export products abroad. In recent years, the DPAD has grown into one of the largest corporate tax expenditures, with an estimated cost of more than $15 billion in 2016 and $174 billion over the next 10 years.
Just how bad has the corporate tax code gotten? The newest edition of Offshore Shell Games, a joint report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and U.S. PIRG, outlines the massive scale of the offshore tax avoidance undertaken by U.S. multinationals. It’s well known that Fortune 500 companies have accumulated a stash of $2.6 trillion in earnings offshore, which has allowed them to avoid an estimated $752 billion in taxes.
This study explores how in 2016 Fortune 500 companies used tax haven subsidiaries to avoid paying taxes on much of their income. It reveals that tax haven use is now standard practice among the Fortune 500 and that a handful of the country’s biggest corporations benefit the most from offshore tax avoidance schemes.
The problem of offshore tax avoidance by American corporations could grow much worse under President Donald Trump’s proposal to adopt a “territorial” tax system, which would exempt the offshore profits of American corporations from U.S. taxes. This change would increase the already substantial benefits American corporations obtain when they use accounting gimmicks to make their profits appear to be earned in a foreign country that has no corporate income tax or has one that is extremely low or easy to avoid.
On Wednesday, reporters waiting to write about President Trump’s much-ballyhooed tax reform speech in Missouri received a fact sheet from the White House informing them that, “Fortune 500 corporations are holding more than $2.6 trillion in profits offshore to avoid $767 billion in Federal taxes, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan plans to visit a Boeing factory in Washington State tomorrow to promote the GOP’s ideas for tax reform, which include a deep cut in the corporate tax rate, while House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady is bringing the same message today to employees of AT&T in Dallas. What is unclear is how much lower taxes for these companies can possibly go.
For a corporation with deeply American roots, Microsoft seems remarkably unable to turn a profit here. Against all odds, the Redmond, Washington-based company continues to claim that virtually all its earnings are in foreign countries. Microsoft’s latest annual report, released earlier this week, shows that over the past two years, the company enjoyed worldwide income of almost $43 billion. It claims to have earned just 0.3 percent of that—$128 million—in the United States.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump called out companies engaging in corporate inversions saying that one proposed inversion was “disgusting” and that “politicians should be ashamed” for allowing it to happen. Despite this rhetoric, the Trump Administration is considering rolling back critical anti-inversion rules as part of its broad regulatory review of recently issued Treasury Department regulations.
In the latest example of how the tax code has been abused and distorted, the Cheesecake Factory is claiming the manufacturing tax deduction, apparently for manufacturing cheesecakes, burgers, and other treats.
The Nike Corporation’s annual financial disclosure of income tax payments is always notable for two recurring trends: the Oregon-based company’s steady shifting of profits into offshore tax havens, and Nike’s apparent effort to conceal how it’s achieving this tax avoidance. This year’s report, released earlier this week, is no exception.
The latest annual financial report released by shipping giant FedEx is yet another reminder that where you stand often depends on where you sit.
The report shows that last year FedEx paid a 7.5 percent federal income tax rate on nearly $3.6 billion of U.S. pretax income and this low rate is due in part to accelerated depreciation, a provision in the tax code that allows the company to write off capital investments faster than they wear out. It’s not surprising, then, that FedEx’s leadership is currently promoting a tax plan that would drop the company’s statutory tax rate even more, and allow it to write off capital investments even faster.
Rather than being known for its pioneering pharmaceuticals, Mylan is increasingly becoming infamous for its pioneering tax avoidance strategies. In 2015, Mylan used an inversion to claim that it is now based in the Netherlands for tax purposes. It is a Dutch company only on paper because ownership of the company was mostly unchanged and it continues to operate largely out of the United States. This maneuver has allowed the company to avoid millions in taxes on its earnings in the U.S. and abroad.
But that’s not the end of Mylan’s innovation when it comes to tax planning. A new report by Reuters found that Mylan is using a surprising new technique for dodging taxes: investing in coal refineries.
The debate over the so-called border adjustment tax (or BAT) took center stage this week when the House Ways and Means Committee held its first hearing on the topic. Despite strong support by the House Republican leadership and the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady, the proposal faced an onslaught of criticism during the hearing from invited witnesses and members of both parties.
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.
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