Representation Without Taxation

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Thirty Fortune 500 Companies Paid More to Lobby Congress Than They Did in Federal Income Taxes, WISPIRG Study Shows

WISPIRG Foundation

Madison, January 18, 2012 – With the second anniversary approaching of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case – which opened the floodgates to corporate spending on elections – WISPIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice reveal 30 corporations that spent more to lobby Congress than they did in taxes.

The report, Representation without Taxation: Fortune 500 Companies that Spend Big on Lobbying and Avoid Taxes takes a close look at one area where corporate power and influence is on full display: corporate tax policy. By exploiting loopholes and special provisions in the tax code, 280 consistently profitable Fortune 500 companies paid about half the statutory corporate tax rate while spending $2 billion to lobby Congress on tax policy and other issues. The report also looks at the “Dirty Thirty” particularly aggressive tax avoiders that spent more on federal lobbying than income taxes between 2008 and 2010. Twenty-nine of these corporations actually received a net tax rebate during the three year period of the study.

“The fact that so many corporations can spend more money lobbying than they pay in taxes makes a mockery of our tax code and our democracy,” said WISPIRG Director Bruce Speight.

Corporate influence through lobbying is only the tip of the iceberg, especially given the Superme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case.  Elections have become astronomically more expensive for winning candidates over the last several years, and the 2012 election promises to be the most expensive in history.

“The public deserves better.  Rather than creating corporate tax and campaign disclosure loopholes that undermine the public trust and serve monied interests, state and federal governments need to act and require full and honest disclosure of campaign expenditures by corporations,” said State Representative Mark Pocan (D-Madison).  “The public should know who is funding candidates, and shareholders should be empowered to have a say in how corporations spend their money on elections with both state and federal shareholder protection acts.”

The report takes a deeper look at one of the most egregious ways corporations skirt taxes – by shifting profits legitimately earned in America to offshore tax havens, where they are subject to little, if any taxes. At least 22 of the thirty companies studied had subsidiaries in tax haven countries.

“Corporations should not be able to shirk their tax burden by using gimmicks to game the tax code,” continued Speight.  “When corporations don’t pay, ordinary taxpayers and responsible small businesses are left to shoulder the tab.”

The “Dirty Thirty” companies all told made $163.7 billion in profits while paying zero dollars in federal income taxes and collecting a total of $10.6 billion in various tax rebates. Meanwhile, they collectively spent $475.7 million in lobbying expenses for the three year period.

“On the second anniversary of Citizens United, corporate tax dodging should be seen as a cautionary tale. In the wake of that disastrous decision, special interest influence will only continue to grow and policy will reflect that unless we get corporate money out of elections,” Speight added.

“The Citizens United decision has left our neighbors in the dark on how money is spent in Wisconsin elections,” said State Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee). “I am supporting legislation to ensure that shareholders have a voice in corporate campaign spending, including political endorsements and advertising. This bill is designed to open the shades and shed light on our elections by increasing accountability and transparency.”

“Large majorities of Americans say corporations pay too little in taxes, and yet members of Congress take no action to close corporate tax loopholes,” said CTJ director Robert McIntyre.

“Lawmakers insist that there is a budget crisis and that Americans must sacrifice some of the essential public services they depend on. But lawmakers do nothing to get corporations to pay their fair share in taxes. The most plausible explanation for lawmakers ignoring their constituents on this issue is the power of corporate money in politics. Campaign contributions and highly-paid lobbyists give corporate executives a louder voice than the millions and millions of working families who wonder why they pay more in taxes than GE, Boeing, Wells Fargo, Verizon, and dozens of other huge, profitable corporations, all put together,” he added.


WISPIRG is a statewide non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization.