Large corporations in the United States like to portray themselves as victims of a supposedly onerous tax system and a supposedly oppressive regulatory system. Those depictions are a far cry from reality, but that does not stop business interests from seeking to weaken government power in both areas.
This year has been a bonanza. The Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans have taken aim at numerous Obama-era regulatory initiatives and now are serving up a banquet of business tax breaks.
At the same time, corporations take matters into their own hands by using every opportunity to circumvent tax obligations and regulatory safeguards. The newly released Paradise Papers are just the latest indications of how large corporations such as Apple (and wealthy individuals) use offshore havens to shield billions of dollars in profits from taxation.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has published a list of more than 300 Fortune 500 companies that hold some $2.6 trillion offshore, thereby avoiding about $767 billion in federal taxes. Of these, ITEP has found indications that 29 corporations keep their holdings not only outside the United States but in tax haven countries where they pay very little in local taxes.
It should come as no surprise that quite a few of these tax dodgers also show up high on the list of regulatory scofflaws documented in Violation Tracker. In fact, one of the 29 is Bank of America, which has racked up $57 billion in fines and settlements since 2000 — far more than any other corporation. ITEP reports that B of A has $17.8 billion in unrepatriated income.
Also on the ITEP list is Citigroup, with $47 billion in unrepatriated income. It ranks 5th on the Violation Tracker list, with more than $16 billion in fines and settlements. Wells Fargo has $2.4 billion in unrepatriated income and $11 billion in penalties, but that latter figure is likely to rise as various cases relating to the bank’s bogus account scandal are resolved.
Banks are not the only overlaps between the two lists. For example, pharmaceutical company Amgen has $36 billion in unrepatriated income and $786 million in penalties.
Major regulatory violators can also be found on the larger list of corporations that are known to have large offshore holdings but do not disclose enough information to allow ITEP to determine whether those holdings are in tax havens. Chief among these are other pharmaceutical giant such as Pfizer ($197 billion offshore and $4.3 billion in penalties), Johnson & Johnson ($66 billion offshore and $2.5 billion in penalties), Merck ($63 billion offshore and $2 billion in penalties) and Eli Lilly ($28 billion offshore and $1.4 billion in penalties).
Also on the list are petroleum majors such as Exxon Mobil ($54 billion offshore and $714 million in penalties) and Chevron ($46 billion offshore and $578 million in penalties).
The mindset that prompts corporate executives to use international tax dodging techniques seems to be related to the one that encourages them to break environmental, consumer protection and other laws at home. The logical course of action would be to tighten both tax and regulatory enforcement, but those currently in charge of federal policymaking instead want to make it even easier for large corporations to make out like bandits.