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Guns don't kill people, the old saw goes. People do.
By the same token, corporations don't dodge taxes. People do. The people who run corporations. And these people — America's CEOs — are reaping awesomely lavish rewards for the tax dodging they have their corporations do.
In fact, corporate tax dodging has gone so out of control that 25 major U.S. corporations last year paid their chief executives more than they paid Uncle Sam in federal income taxes.
Tax-dodging corporations argue they are breaking no laws. They are just, the argument goes, operating "under the rules that Congress has established." They are indeed. But massive corporate outlays for lobbying and campaign contributions shape those rules. The 25 firms highlighted in this study spent a combined total of more than $150 million on lobbying and campaign contributions last year.
All the companies highlighted in this report benefit enormously from their institutional presence in the United States. They utilize our taxpayer-funded infrastructure for transportation. They tap into government-sponsored research and subsidies for technological innovation. They expect the U.S. law enforcement and judicial systems to protect their intellectual and physical property. And they rely on the U.S. military to defend their assets abroad.
Tax havens are costing the federal treasury, by one estimate, $100 billion a year. These havens are speeding the transfer of wealth out of local communities and the global south into the bank accounts of the planet's wealthiest and most powerful. Tax havens, or more accurately "secrecy jurisdictions," can also facilitate criminal activity, from drug money laundering to the financing of terrorist networks.
These artful dodgers include the CEOs of Verizon, Boeing, Honeywell, General Electric, International Paper, Prudential, eBay, Bank of New York Mellon, Ford, Motorola, Qwest Communications, Dow Chemical, and Stanley Black and Decker. Their average annual compensation totaled $16.7 million, well above last year's average of $10.8 million for the CEOs of S&P 500 companies.
Whatever happened to corporate civic leadership? A previous generation of CEOs would have been ashamed to be compensated so lavishly while their companies abandoned responsibility for paying their fair share. They would have been embarrassed to go year after year contributing little or nothing to the public investments that make the United States a vibrant business environment.