Op-Ed, 651 words

CEOs Rewarded for Corporate Tax Dodging

Shareholders should reward CEOs for building better products or delivering better services, not for accounting gymnastics that game their tax bills down.

Chuck Collins

For an elite group of American CEOs, sacrifice is for chumps.

As the nation struggles with budgetary constraints, Congress has exempted a group of imperial CEOs and their companies from contributing to the solution.

One special group of CEOs enjoys huge compensation packages while presiding over companies that pay little or no taxes. Twenty-five companies paid their CEOs more last year than they paid in U.S. corporate taxes, according to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies that I co-authored.

Executive Excess 2011

Executive Excess 2011

Instead of building better products or providing superior customer service, they spend millions to lobby Congress to change the tax laws so they don’t have to pay.

The ranks of these profitable tax dodgers include Honeywell, General Electric, Verizon, eBay, International Paper, Boeing, Dow Chemical, Ford Motor, and Qwest Communications.

John Lundgren, the CEO of toolmaker Stanley Black and Decker, got a 234 percent pay hike in 2010, bringing his compensation to $32.6 million. Meanwhile the company is shedding thousands of jobs and moving more operations and profits offshore. They have 50 subsidiaries in offshore tax havens. Instead of paying taxes, they collected a $75 million refund.

Twenty of these 25 companies spent more money lobbying than they paid in taxes. When confronted by their tax dodging, their PR flaks complain, “We are just obeying the law.” Last year, these 25 companies spent $150 million to influence the law, through lobbying and campaign expenditures.

These companies win gold medals in accounting gymnastics, using subsidiaries in low- or no-tax countries to avoid their tax obligations. Here’s how the game works: A corporation pretends its profits are earned in offshore subsidiaries while its losses are incurred in the United States. At tax time, these corporations report to Uncle Sam that all they have are losses. Together, these 25 companies have 556 subsidiaries in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Ireland, and Bermuda.

These U.S.-based companies use our taxpayer-funded infrastructure, including roads, bridges, broadband, and transportation. They benefit from taxpayer-funded research and spin-off products like the Internet, advanced jet engines, and drug research. Their corporate assets are protected by the U.S. military, police departments, and firefighters — and they rely on our U.S. justice system to defend their intellectual property.

High-Wire CEO cartoon

High-Wire CEO

Yet 20 of these companies paid no taxes in 2010. They didn’t chip in one dime to pay for the services they enjoy — and that contribute enormously to the success of their businesses. Five companies paid symbolic amounts of taxes, less than the paychecks of their CEOs. But most, in fact, collected checks from Uncle Sam.

We taxpayers just hired Boeing for $35 billion to build new aircraft for the U.S. military. Honeywell also receives huge U.S. government and military contracts. But we don’t require either company to pay a nickel for national defense or public services.

As wages for most Americans have remained stagnant over the last several years, these imperial CEOs saw their compensation jump 27.8 percent between 2009 and 2010. The average CEO of an S&P 500 company collected $10.8 million in compensation. But the CEOs of these notorious tax dodgers were paid an average of $16.7 million in 2010.

Shareholders should reward CEOs for building better products or delivering better services, not for accounting gymnastics that game their tax bills down. Shareholders at Stanley Black and Decker are trying to reverse their CEO’s pay grab.

Congress should pass the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would generate an estimated $100 billion in revenue annually. It would save jobs at patriotic U.S. companies that are forced to unfairly compete with corporate tax dodgers on an unlevel playing field.

Our nation needs all hands on deck, with everyone pulling their weight to address our fiscal challenges. As we try to recover from the worst economic depression since the 1930s, middle-class taxpayers and domestic businesses shouldn’t have to carry these slacker companies on their backs.

Chuck Collins is a co-author of the new Institute for Policy Studies report, “Executive Excess 2011: The Massive CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging.” www.ips-dc.org