Over the past decade, the National Institute on Money in State Politics has built its Follow the Money database into an impressive resource for showing the influence of large corporations on state electoral campaigns. I have long wanted to create a comparable tool to track the flow of money in roughly the opposite direction: economic development subsidy awards from states to big business.
I am happy to announce that my colleagues and I at Good Jobs First have just introduced such a resource. Subsidy Tracker is the first national search engine for determining where a company has gotten economic development subsidies around the country. The database stitches together information from scores of different disclosure sources, many of them obscure reports and webpages. The subsidy programs covered include corporate income tax credits, property tax abatements, enterprise zone tax breaks, cash grants, reimbursement of worker training costs, and others.
In its initial form, the database contains information on more than 43,000 subsidy awards from 124 subsidy programs in 27 states; the number will soon jump to more than 64,000 in 34 states and will continue growing.
Here are some ways Subsidy Tracker can be used:
- To find companies that have received subsidies in many places. Currently, for instance, Wal-Mart shows up 69 times, trailed by Target at 45.
- To find companies that have gotten some very large individual subsidies. General Electric received a tax credit worth up to $115 million in Ohio in 2009.
- To find bad actors that have received subsidies. Super-polluter and climate denier Exxon shows up 23 times in Louisiana alone. The anti-union T-Mobile shows up eight times so far. Wall Street villain Goldman Sachs has received more than $124 million in tax credits and grants in Utah and New Jersey.
- To find good actors that have received subsidies. Flambeau River Papers, included on the American Rights at Work 2010 list of employers that “practice labor-management cooperation while creating pioneering solutions to the environmental challenges of the 21st century” shows up in Subsidy Tracker as having received a grant of $249,000 from Wisconsin in 2008.
- To find companies that have received subsidies in states where they have made substantial campaign contributions. Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland, which according to Follow the Money made more than $546,000 in campaign contributions in Illinois since 2003 (including those of its executives and employees), has received more than $87 million in enterprise zone tax credits in the state during the same period.
- To find companies that profess extreme laissez-faire views and then take subsidies. Koch Industries, whose owners bankroll the Tea Party movement, received two tax credits worth a total of more than $10 million from Oklahoma in the past year.
I’m sure researchers, journalists and others will think of many more ways to use the database. Each entry in Subsidy Tracker contains a link back to the original online source (except a limited number of cases in which the data we obtained is not posted on the web). Search results can be downloaded to a spreadsheet. For more on the data and how the site works, see the User Guide.
Good Jobs First introduced Subsidy Tracker along with two other resources: a report called Show Us the Subsidies, which evaluates the subsidy disclosure practices of the 50 states and the District of Columbia; and Accountable USA, a set of pages that review each state’s subsidy policies, describe large and controversial subsidy deals and provide other provocative information.
We hope all these tools help shine a light on the many excessive and ineffective subsidies that are going to large companies at a time when states and localities can ill afford the loss of what is estimated at $60 billion a year in public revenue.
Subsidy Tracker is a work in progress. In this first phase, we have focused on data sources that we discovered in preparing Show Us the Subsidies and Accountable USA. In the months ahead, we plan to go deeper by using freedom of information requests to obtain data not currently disclosed in any form.
I hope that Dirt Diggers Digest readers will find Subsidy Tracker to be a useful tool in your research. I look forward to your comments and suggestions.
Table of online disclosure links for major subsidy programs (not all data yet in Subsidy Tracker)