Nov 252010
The United States Supreme Court.
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Article first published as American Corporations are all About Profits – Not People on Technorati.

Have you heard the news that corporate profits hit an all-time high this past quarter? That’s right, with unemployment stuck near double digits and the wages of American workers continuing to fall, American businesses racked up profits at an annualized rate of $1.66 trillion.

So, even though they themselves may be hurting, shouldn’t patriotic Americans cheer these profits? After all, we have a huge federal budget deficit, and at least the tax revenues from these huge profits will improve the shortfall, right?

Wrong. The sad truth is that American corporations aren’t all that American, and they’re certainly not patriotic. General Electric, fourth on the Fortune 500, had an excellent year in 2009, making profits of $10.3 billion. Their U.S. tax bill? Uncle Sam owed them $1.1 billion. How does that happen?

Well, somewhere in their 24,000 page tax return are the details of how they consistently manage to make serious profits overseas but lose money in the U.S..

A similar story applies to Exxon Mobile, our nation’s most profitable company. Their profits for tax year 2008 climbed to a record high of $42.5 billion — the most ever for an American company. They did wind up having to pay $15 billion in income taxes, but unfortunately for Americans, none of that money was paid to the IRS. Exxon’s U.S. tax bill was a whopping zero dollars.

Sadly, these companies are anything but alone in their ability to exploit tax loopholes and dodge paying U.S. taxes. In fact, a 2008 study prepared by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that two out of three American corporations paid ZERO, zip, nada in federal income taxes from 1998 through 2005.

Unlike average Americans, corporations enjoy considerable flexibility in both operations and the resulting tax treatment. Exxon, for example, has several wholly owned subsidiaries domiciled in the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands that allow them to legally shelter cash flow. Other corporations, like Google, who was recently able to reduce its effective tax rate to just 2.4%, accomplish their magic by shuffling income through foreign countries using well-known tax strategies like the “Double Irish” or “Dutch Sandwich.”

Google’s use of the “Double Irish” maneuver depends on shifting non-U.S. sales to its Dublin office — 88% of its $12.5 billion in 2009. This technique is also used by others, like Microsoft, and requires that they have two Irish companies (hence the “double”) where one pays royalties to the other which collects the proceeds in a tax haven, like Bermuda.

Make no mistake about it, the use of tax havens is commonplace in corporate America. Another GAO study reported that 83 of the 100 largest American companies have subsidiaries in tax havens. It’s estimated that through the use of such havens, corporations and wealthy individuals are able to evade more than $100 billion in U.S. taxes every year. ATT, GE, IBM, Chevron, they all participate in the dodge.

Even those companies with government contracts, like Boeing, and those who took government bailout money, like AIG, GM, Goldman Sachs and Citicorp play the game. The truth is that the evasion occurs on such a grand scale that 18,000 companies share a single address in the Cayman Islands, a popular haven because of its lack of any corporate or capital gains tax.

What should be done about all of this? Some people advocate the closing of loopholes to prevent such activities. Others suggest that completely eliminating corporate taxes and treating corporate profits as the individual income of its shareholders would be a superior remedy. But whatever the solution, the core truth of the situation remains evident — 21st  Century corporations have no nationality.

Like it or not, we now live in a global economy. Billions of dollars in U.S. tax revenue is being hidden in foreign banks, and millions of American jobs have been offshored to foreign workers. American corporate profits are at an all-time high even while huge numbers of Americans are suffering. The sad truth is that American corporations have but one loyalty, and it’s not to our nation, nor is it to the American people; they are singularly focused on profits, and their only loyalty is to their shareholders.

There’s nothing really wrong with this specific truth. Corporations are legal fictions created for the purpose of making money. They are rightfully focused solely on profits. But there is something seriously wrong with assigning to these artificial entities the rights associated with being a person.

This is exactly what the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) did in its decision on Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission. In conferring personhood upon corporations and assigning full First Amendment protections for free speech, the SCOTUS not only made it perfectly legal for companies to lie but also opened a Pandora’s Box of election campaign abuse.

At a time when deep-pocketed corporations already control both political parties, and the cost of Campaign 2010 would hit nearly $4 billion — with Americans fighting to take their country back from the special interests, the Citizens United decision unleashed another $180 million in campaign ads, with $120 million coming from undisclosed sources.

Because of the SCOTUS decision, corporations, even those with significant foreign ownership, now have the power to directly influence American elections. How this can be a positive for our nation is a mystery. The Founding Fathers were certainly not advocates of such corporate power. They fully understood the truth expressed by Justice John Paul Stevens, in his dissenting opinion: “the corporation must engage the electoral process with the aim to enhance the profitability of the company, no matter how persuasive the argument for a broader or conflicting set of priorities.”

Corporations are not people, and what’s good for one is not necessarily good for the other. The Citizens United decision is an abomination upon the American system of government that runs counter to the ideal of one-person-one-vote. It virtually ensures that American corporations will continue to evade paying U.S. income tax while stoking profits with cheap foreign labor. It corrupts the very core of our founding and ensures that a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” will indeed perish from the Earth.

If you are a patriot, if you love your country and care about democracy, you’ll agree that, left or right, our government belongs to The People. Please raise your voice and say NO to the sale of our democracy — join your fellow Americans in ending corporate rule and Move to Amend.

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