Saturday, April 30, 2011

Corporate America's War on Political Transparency

Original Link:


It's a modest notion.

Companies that bid for government contracts should disclose their campaign spending, in order to diminish the likelihood that contracts are a payoff for political expenditures.

The Obama administration has indicated that it plans to impose such a rule, through an executive order. Ideally, the rule would prohibit contractors and lobbyists from campaign spending, but a disclosure standard is a very positive if modest step.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the trade association for big business, however, takes a somewhat different view.

"We will fight it through all available means," Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist for the Chamber, told the New York Times. "To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table."

Other business lobbyists use less charged rhetoric* but echo Josten's stridency. "The President and his administration seem to be using the executive order powers for political purposes," says John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, an association of major company CEOs. "The suggestion that federal procurement choices are the result of contributions is being seen as discouraging free speech by intimidating business donors."

Gosh, is it really a stretch to suggest that contractors think political donations help them obtain contracts? Did Lockheed really spend $16 million on campaign contributions over the last two decades -- divided fairly evenly between the two major parties (55-45 split for Republicans) -- for any other reason? Heck, the company spent $60 million over just the last five years on lobbying, primarily to affect how the government spends money.

This is a case -- there have been precious few -- where the President is going head to head with the Big Business lobby. It's up to us to help him stand strong for what's right. Go here to sign a petition urging President Obama to ignore the business pressure and issue the executive order requiring disclosure of contractors' election expenditures.

The need for such action is directly traceable to the Supreme Court's decision Citizens United v. FEC, which lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations, and paved the way for companies to make massive expenditures from their general treasuries to influence election outcomes. While companies are prohibited from making direct contributions to federal candidates, and while direct contributions from individual managers and employees of companies and their political action committees are publicly reported, it remains nearly impossible to trace most of the corporate political spending designed to curry favor and access with government officials. After Citizens United, corporations can now easily make secret and unlimited donations directly out of their corporate treasuries to "front" organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that then use the money for campaign expenditures.

Not only did Citizens United badly damage the functioning of our democracy, it invited a major uptick in corruption narrowly defined.

While government corruption comes in many forms, nowhere is it more prevalent than in government contracting. "Pay-to-play" deals are a form of government contracting abuse in which a business entity makes campaign contributions or expenditures on behalf of a public official in order to obtain preferential treatment in receiving government contracts. Occasionally, pay-to-play constitutes outright bribery for a government contract. More often, pay-to-play involves a contractor buying favoritism. The practice is widespread in local, state, and federal contracting but is usually kept well hidden due to inadequate monitoring of government contracting procedures. The pay-to-play system encourages fraud and abuse of power, prevents contracts from being awarded to businesses based on merit, wastes taxpayer dollars, and facilitates privatization and contracting out of services that otherwise could or should be provided by government agencies.

An example of pay-to-play abuse is the scandal surrounding impeached former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Charges against Blagojevich included a pay-to-play scheme in which he allegedly provided a lucrative highway contract to a contributor in exchange for a donation.

Short of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the best way to prevent pay-to-play abuses is to bar contractors and lobbyists from political expenditures. Eight states, the Securities Exchange Commission and several local jurisdictions currently restrict government contractors from making campaign contributions to those responsible for issuing government contracts.

President Obama has proposed not restrictions on contractor spending, but mandatory disclosure, something many states already do. Under the proposed executive order, government contractors would have to report all bundled contributions from their executives and PACs, as well as any direct campaign expenditures or donations to front groups used for campaign expenditures.

For the Big Business lobby, even simple disclosure of contractor political spending is too much. If the public knows about corporate campaign expenditures, fears the U.S. Chamber and its allies, they may seek to hold companies accountable. Then, the argument goes, those companies might be deterred from making political expenditures and expressing their views. Welcome to the next step of illogic in a post-Citizens United world.

Even under Citizens United, however, disclosure rules, and rules aimed at prohibiting narrowly defined corruption, remain permissible.

The President's proposed executive order would not turn back the clock on Citizens United. That's going to take a constitutional amendment.

But deterring contractor corruption is a worthy goal in its own right. Tell the President to stand strong:

* Imagine for just a moment if a prominent political player from the left used language that could be interpreted as calling for drone attacks on a Republican president. This is of course not to say that Josten really means to urge violence, but his words are what they are. A firestorm would erupt if the script were flipped.

Bernie Sanders on The Ten Worst Corporate Tax Avoiders: It's Time for Them to Pay up and Share the Sacrifice

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While hard working Americans fill out their income tax returns this tax season, General Electric and other giant profitable corporations are avoiding U.S. taxes altogether.

With Congress returning to Capitol Hill on Monday to debate steep spending cuts, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations must do their share to help bring down our record-breaking deficit.

Sanders renewed his call for shared sacrifice after it was reported that General Electric and other major corporations paid no U.S. taxes after posting huge profits. Sanders said it is grossly unfair for congressional Republicans to propose major cuts to Head Start, Pell Grants, the Social Security Administration, nutrition grants for pregnant low-income women and the Environmental Protection Agency while ignoring the reality that some of the most profitable corporations pay nothing or almost nothing in federal income taxes.

Sanders compiled a list of some of some of the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders:

1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

Sanders has called for closing corporate tax loopholes and eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies. He also introduced legislation to impose a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires that would yield up to $50 billion a year. The senator has said that spending cuts must be paired with new revenue so the federal budget is not balanced solely on the backs of working families.

"We have a deficit problem. It has to be addressed," Sanders said, "but it cannot be addressed on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the poor, young people, the most vulnerable in this country. The wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country have got to contribute. We've got to talk about shared sacrifice."

End Tax Breaks for Profitable Corporations

Original Link:

By Sen. Bernie Sanders

Republicans in the House want to balance the budget by denying more than 200,000 little children the opportunity to receive an early education through Head Start; reducing or eliminating Pell Grants for 9.4 million college students; eliminating primary health care services to 11 million Americans; and delaying Social Security benefits to half a million eligible Americans, among other things.

Before Congress cuts funding for Head Start, Social Security, and financial aid for college, we have got to make sure that large, profitable corporations are paying their fair share of taxes.

At a time when we have a $14.2 trillion national debt and a $1.6 trillion federal deficit, it is unacceptable that Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Bank of America, Chevron, Boeing, and other large, profitable corporations are not only avoiding paying any federal income taxes at all but have actually received huge refund checks from the IRS.

Loopholes in the tax code, offshore tax havens, tax breaks to companies that export American jobs to China, and other tax breaks have allowed giant corporations in America to receive billions in refunds from the IRS.

Meanwhile corporations are sitting on nearly $2 trillion in cash on hand, and big banks have nearly a trillion dollars in excess reserves parked at the Federal Reserve.

In 2005, one out of four large corporations paid no income taxes at all even though they collected $1.1 trillion in revenue over that one-year period.

In 2009, Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits. Not only did Exxon not pay any federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to SEC filings.

Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, even though it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year, received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

In 2008, Goldman Sachs only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

Last year, Citigroup made over $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes, even though it received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department. Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS. According to a New York Times article, "G.E. is so good at avoiding taxes that some people consider its tax department to be the best in the world, even better than any law firm's."

Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year, even though it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, which made $16 billion in profits from 2006 through 2009, received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

Ford's federal income tax rate was just 2.3 percent in 2009 even though it made $3 billion in profits.

Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made over $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

Over the last five years, Southwest Airlines paid a federal income tax rate of 6.3 percent, Yahoo paid 7 percent, and Prudential Financial paid 7.6 percent.

Shared sacrifice means that corporate America must play its part in reducing the deficit.

The time has come for corporate America to start paying its fair share. We simply cannot balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the middle class, little kids and the most vulnerable people in our society.

Here are just a few things we could do to make sure corporations pay their fair share:

1. End abusive and illegal offshore tax shelters.

Each and every year, the United States loses an estimated $100 billion a year in tax revenues due to offshore tax abuses by the wealthy and large corporations.

The situation has become so absurd that one five story office building in the Cayman Islands is now the home to more than 18,000 corporations. That is wrong.

The wealthy and large corporations should not be allowed to avoid paying $100 billion a year in taxes by setting up tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas or other tax haven countries.

2. End tax breaks for big oil and gas companies. Exxon Mobil, the most profitable corporation in the history of the world, not only paid nothing in federal income taxes in 2009, but received a $156 million tax refund from the IRS, according to their own shareholder report. Repealing tax breaks for big oil and gas companies as President Obama has recommended would raise more than $35 billion in revenue over the next decade.

3. Stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas. Today, the U.S. government is actually rewarding companies that move U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas through loopholes in the tax code known as deferral and foreign source income.

This is unacceptable. During the Bush years, the U.S. lost nearly 30 percent of its manufacturing jobs and since 2001, 50,000 manufacturing plants have been shut down. Today, corporations in this country are outsourcing jobs to China and other low wage countries where workers are paid pennies an hour. The last thing we should be doing is providing a tax break to companies that move jobs overseas.

Ending these tax loopholes could raise more than $400 billion over a 10-year period.

Washington Post Gives GOP 'Two Pinocchios' For Claiming Privatized Medicare Like Health Care Members Of Congress Have

Original Link:

By Brian Beutler

As long as self-anointed fact-checkers are dumping on Democrats for claiming the GOP plan to phase out Medicare and replace it with a private insurance system "ends" the program altogether, they might as well fact check the obverse claim. Specifically, the GOP's argument that their plan "saves" Medicare and provides seniors coverage "just like" the insurance members of Congress have.

The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler took on the task and concluded, "We think the reference to the health plan for members of Congress gives a false and misleading impression to ordinary people."

He gives the claim "Two Pinocchios."

Like other employers who provide health care to their employees, the federal government agrees to pick up a fixed percentage of their employees' premiums, no matter how quickly they grow. The GOP's Medicare plan, by contrast, would provide seniors a fixed amount, pegged to regular old inflation, which means over time, a larger and larger chunk of their already-expensive premiums will fall on them.

"Indeed, the main reason for making the proposal is to help bring down health-care costs for the federal government and thus get a handle on the deficit," Kessler wrote. "The CBO suggests this will be accomplished largely by shifting the costs onto beneficiaries"

What we're not being told about Paul Ryan's Medicare plan

Original Link:

By Dean Baker

The mainstream media has failed to report that the Ryan plan is a privatisation programme that will hand $30tn to insurers.

The film Casablanca features one of greatest moments in movie history. With Humphrey Bogart standing with a smoking pistol over the body of the dead Gestapo major, Claude Rains, in the role of the French colonel, tells his troops: "the major has been shot, round up the usual suspects."

Unfortunately, the Washington policy gang is busy following Claude Rains' instructions. The nation is drowning in endless accounts of how the huge deficit will sink the economy and the country. These accounts invariably feature stories of a Congress addicted to spending and a nation that wants government benefits that it doesn't want to pay for.

This story has nothing to do with reality, as all budget analysts know. The explosion of the budget deficit in the last three years is a response to the plunge in private sector demand following the collapse of the housing bubble. If the budget deficit were smaller, we would simply have less demand and fewer jobs.

Paul Ryan did his best to lay out the long-term story as clearly as possible with his plan to privatise Medicare. The analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows that Ryan's plan would hugely increase the cost of healthcare to seniors. Under the Ryan plan, a Medicare-equivalent policy is projected to cost almost half of a median 65-year-old retiree's income by 2030. It would soon exceed the income of most retirees, as healthcare costs outpace income growth.

However most of the additional burden projected for retirees is not the result of cost-shifting from the government. The vast majority of the additional burden that the CBO projected for retirees comes from the higher cost of private insurance compared with the government-run Medicare system. The additional cost as a result of adopting Ryan's privatised system is more than $30tn over Medicare's 75-year planning horizon.

To put this in perspective, CBO's projected increase in the cost of buying Medicare-equivalent insurance policies through the private sector is roughly six times the size of the projected social security shortfall. The projected shortfall in social security has sent thousands of politicians screaming about devastating burden on our children. How, then, should we describe something that is six times as large as this "devastating burden", a sum that is just under $100,000 for every man, woman and child in the country?

The CBO analysis should have led every budget reporter in the country to point out the enormous cost savings that Medicare provides relative to private insurers. They should have been pointing out that the country will face an enormous burden from exploding healthcare costs if it does not fix its healthcare system. And that the Medicare system is an important part of the solution.

However, it seems that no budget reporters – not a single reporter at the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal or any other major news outlet – picked up on this central point in the analysis from the CBO. Instead, they talked about the plan as a question of whether people preferred a government guarantee or would rather have individuals rely on themselves and the market to obtain healthcare in their old age. The $30tn price tag – in the form of added waste – was altogether missing in the reporting.

Perhaps, this should not be surprising. After all, reporters at major news outlets are better known for what they miss than what they catch. The vast majority of them bought President Bush's nonsense about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in the period leading up to the Iraq war. While the Bush administration's accounts were presented with due solemnity, the voices of sceptics were rarely heard.

Similarly, there was almost no reporting on the $8tn housing bubble, the collapse of which has given us the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Instead, we were given the assurance from Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and the rest that everything was OK. And instead, the news outlets told us to worry about the budget deficit – back when it was just 1.0% of GDP.

Incredible as it may seem, the national press corps is almost completely ignoring a report from the government's main source of budget projections. Rather than telling people that the Ryan plan to privatise Medicare means transferring tens of trillions of dollars from taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries to private insurers and the healthcare industry, they spread drivel about the issue being a matter of whether people like the government or the market.

This fits the "usual suspects" story. The ostensible choices are between those who prefer the government and those who prefer the market. But the real smoking gun is in the hands of those who want to redistribute tens of trillions of dollars to the insurance and healthcare industry. Preferences for the government or the market have nothing to do with it.

Cost of Medicare Equivalent Insurance Skyrockets under Ryan Plan

Original Link:

The budget plan put forth by Representative Paul Ryan has been described by some as a serious, smart plan that will help reinvigorate the economy and reduce the deficit. Ryan’s plan to revamp Medicare has been described as shifting costs from the government to beneficiaries. A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), however, shows that the Ryan proposal will increase health care costs for seniors by more than seven dollars for every dollar it saves the government, a point missing from much of the debate over the plan.

“The Ryan plan does nothing to control private-sector waste in health care costs,” said David Rosnick, an author of the report. “As a result of the waste in the private system, beneficiaries will end up paying substantially more for Medicare, in effect paying a hefty new tax on their health care.”

The report, “Representative Ryan’s $30 Trillion Medicare Waste Tax,” documents the potential effects of replacing Medicare with a system of vouchers or premium supports and raising the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 as suggested in the Ryan plan, which was passed by the House of Representatives with almost unanimous support from Republicans and no votes from Democrats. The authors note that each voucher under the plan will initially be worth $6,600, but would be frozen at this amount over the program’s 75-year planning window, paying less and less of a beneficiary’s health care costs over time.

In addition to comparing the costs of Medicare to the government under the current system and under the Ryan plan, the authors also show the effects of raising the age of Medicare eligibility. The paper also demonstrates that while Ryan shifts $4.9 trillion in health care costs from the government to Medicare beneficiaries, this number is dwarfed by a $34 trillion increase in overall costs to beneficiaries that is projected based on the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis.

Ryan’s $30 Trillion Medicare Waste Tax

Orginal Link:

By David Rosnick and Dean Baker

Representative Ryan’s proposal to replace the current Medicare system with a system of vouchers or premium supports has been widely described as shifting costs from the government to beneficiaries. However, the size of this shift is actually small relative to the projected increase in costs that would result from having Medicare provided by private insurers instead of the government-run Medicare system.
The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) projections imply that the Ryan plan would add more than $30 trillion to the cost of providing Medicare equivalent policies over the program’s 75-year planning period. This increase in costs – from waste associated with using a less efficient health care delivery system – has not received the attention that it deserves in the public debate.

Representative Ryan’s proposal to replace the current Medicare system with a system of vouchers or premium supports has been widely described as shifting costs from the government to beneficiaries. However, the size of this shift is actually small relative to the projected increase in costs that would result from having Medicare provided by private insurers instead of the government-run Medicare system.
The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) projections imply that the Ryan plan would add more than $30 trillion to the cost of providing Medicare equivalent policies over the program’s 75-year planning period. This increase in costs – from waste associated with using a less efficient health care delivery system – has not received the attention that it deserves in the public debate.

Republicans' Hidden $34 Trillion Tax On Seniors

Original Link:

By Brian Beutler

A new report by economists at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research looks at House Republicans' plan for privatizing Medicare from a new angle, and finds that it could increase health care costs for beneficiaries by a staggering $34 trillion over 75 years.

You won't find these expenditures on the government ledger. They represent the amount of money Medicare beneficiaries would have to pay out of pocket if they wanted to buy insurance policies that provide Medicare-equivalent benefits.

The reasoning is fairly straightforward, according to CEPR's Dean Baker and David Rosnick.

The money the government currently spends every year on Medicare doesn't cover every penny of health care its beneficiaries consume. The government agrees to pay a fixed percent, and the rest falls to the beneficiaries who share in the cost of the services they and their doctors order. The sum of those two numbers -- both of which are expected to rise steeply over time -- is the total cost incurred by Medicare. Under the House Republican plan, the government holds fixed the amount of money it's willing to pay per patient per year, and leaves the residual costs for seniors to sort out with private insurers. Because private insurers are smaller, profit-driven, and less efficient than Medicare, those out-of-pocket costs will be significantly higher than they are now. And they'd grow much, much faster. Over the course of the program's 75 year planning period, the difference would amount to $34 trillion.

Quoth Baker and Rosnick:

CBO projects that private-sector inefficiency will grow over time. By 2030, the government would spend $7,200 on a 65-year-old in traditional Medicare. Since the cost of Ryan's plan remains fixed at $6,600, it would save the government $600.... But the total cost of insuring the beneficiary through the private sector would be $20,600, compared to $12,400 under traditional Medicare. For every dollar that the government would save on this beneficiary, it would generate more than $13 of waste.
The authors describe the $8,200 difference as a "gift to the private sector," that would function like a tax.

Conservatives would argue that seniors will shop around for plans that provide fewer benefits than traditional Medicare, but that cover the services they expect they'll need. If that doesn't hold down the growth in health care costs, though, that would mean shedding more, and more benefits or paying more and more out of pocket.

And that's all assuming seniors will be able to find private insurers willing to sell them coverage.

Corporate Propaganda Response To Town Hall Medicare Anger

Original Link:

By Dave Johnson

The Republican plan for Medicare "cuts government spending" by shifting the cost of old-age health care directly to the middle class and poor. (I'll explain below.) Here's the thing: someone is going to get that $34 trillion. (I'll explain below.) And that someone (the Supreme Court thinks corporations are "someone") is fighting hard for it. They'll say whatever it takes. It is up to you and me to get the word out about this. (I'll explain below.)

Say Whatever It Takes

Here is an example of what I mean by "say whatever it takes." Click through and listen to this commercial. Cheerful, uplifting music. Positive voice tones. Flat-out lies.


Something unusual happened last Washington, DC of all places.

Elected officials actually did what they said they would.

The House passed a budget that protects and preserves Medicare for years to come.

And our Congressman, Allen West, voted to protect Medicare and keep it secure for future retirees.

Our national debt is $14 trillion...America is literally spending money we don't have and future generations won't be able to afford.

With 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age every day, important programs like Medicare are being crushed - and could collapse if we don't act to strengthen and improve them.

No changes for seniors on Medicare now or those who will soon go on it.

Control costs by targeting waste, fraud and abuse - so current and future seniors receive the quality care they have earned.

Call Allen West at (954) 202-6211. Thank him for voting to protect Medicare and tell him to continue keeping his promise to seniors.

Paid for by the 60 Plus Association.

What's This About?

Last week all of the Republicans in the House except a few voted to approve a plan to phase out Medicare and replace it with "premium support" - vouchers - for private insurance, that only cover part of the cost of the private insurance. (As if any company would insure a 75-year-old with health problems. And as if an 80-year-old with cognitive disabilities can pick and choose which insurance scam policy is best.)

Yes, that's right, it phases out Medicare and replaces it with private insurance, as in, "What do you mean you won't cover that procedure, test, drug, operation? My doctor says I need it!" Right, that private insurance.

Medicare Costs Shifted To Middle Class

This plan shifts costs away from the government and on to We, the People. But it ends up adding trillions in total costs because private insurance costs so much more, and because of co-pays, and because of so many other reasons that are the cause of our country paying so much more per capita than other for health care. It actually makes the cost problem much worse. But it cuts "government spending" by shifting those costs to us individually.

Economist Dean Baker writes that the Republican Medicare phase-out costs us more than $30 trillion (over 75 years) above what we would pay without this phase-out,

[The Republican plan] to replace the current Medicare system with a system of vouchers or premium supports has been widely described as shifting costs from the government to beneficiaries. However, the size of this shift is actually small relative to the projected increase in costs that would result from having Medicare provided by private insurers instead of the government-run Medicare system.
The Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) projections imply that the Ryan plan would add more than $30 trillion to the cost of providing Medicare equivalent policies over the program's 75-year planning period. This increase in costs - from waste associated with using a less efficient health care delivery system - has not received the attention that it deserves in the public debate.

And economist Mark Thoma writes that the phase-out leaves many seniors without the means to get health care at all,

The [Republican] plan would reduce Medicare payments far below what is currently available, and this would leave many without the means to obtain the care they need. But even if the vouchers were adequate, I would still not be in favor of a voucher system for health insurance.
The public will have to shell out trillions of dollars more because of the phase-out shifts seniors to private insurance. It saves the government money by shifting the cost to you and me, but adds $34 trillion more in total costs this way. So high-end taxpayers and corporations will pay lower taxes, the rest of us make it up.

Town Hall Anger

People are starting to hear about what the Republicans did and have been turning out at local "town hall" meetings where members of Congress talk to constituents. And, not surprisingly, they are angry.

Here is Republican Congressman Ryan being boo'ed by constituents:

Who Gets That Money?

They always say, when you are trying to figure out who is behind some scheme or scam, to "follow the money." Sure, in this case wealthy and corporate interests are pushing for even more huge tax cuts by "cutting government spending" with this scheme to phase out Medicare. But wait, there's more. The scheme goes beyond that because when you privatize government functions someone gets the money. That is the point of privatization -- to shift public wealth to private profit. They always claim privatization cuts costs, but in reality it actually costs more with what was formerly something We, the People held in common now going to a few for their own gain. So this costs us more because government doesn't pay CEOs huge salaries, and doesn't give million-dollar bonuses to the rest of the executives. Government doesn't pay out a profit. And government's job is to work in the interest of the public. Not so with private companies. Not so at all.

Privatizing means taking something away from us, so a few can benefit from it instead. And that is what is happening to Medicare under the Republican plan.

Enter The Corporate Front Group

In response to the town hall anger, a corporate front-group named 60 Plus is blanketing the radiowaves in Republican districts with these soothing ads thanking them for "preserving and protecting" Medicare. This is part of a campaign they named Seniors Thank Congress for Protecting Medicare.

60 Plus is one of the groups that spent millions and millions of dollars running campaign ads for Republicans last year, telling people Democrats "cut $500 billion from Medicare."

Thanks to the wisdom of our elected officials and Supreme Court, we don't get to find out just who is behind 60 Plus. Is it corporations? Billionaires? Foreign Governments? SourceWatch has some clues.

Muddy The Waters

This ad is part of a strategy to "muddy the waters,"

The GOP official added that the party "can fight the Medicare issue to a tie" by "muddying the waters" and painting Democrats as choosing status-quo options that would have Medicare "die a slow death."
Go back and read the transcript of the 60 Plus ad again, see how closely it follows this strategy.

Regular people have jobs, drive to work (and listen to the radio where these ads are playing), work hard, come home, maybe take care of kids... They are busy. They are not experts on the issues. If they tune into the news they are told that "both sides" are "squabbling" and maybe that there is a plan to "reform" Medicare. So as much as Republicans can "muddy the waters" and keep the reporting on a "both sides" and horse race focus, this plan can succeed.

This organization is not put together by people who care if you and me get Medicare. This is put together as a front for the corporations that will get the money from privatizing Medicare, and the wealthy few who get the money from tax cuts. They count on regular people being busy and not well-informed.

The GOP official added that the party "can fight the Medicare issue to a tie" by "muddying the waters" and painting Democrats as choosing status-quo options that would have Medicare "die a slow death."
It's up to you and me to get the word out about this.

We Can Fight This

So, will we be able to get the word out, or will the corporate money allow this and other front groups to saturate the airwaves?

I think we can fight this. We have the facts on our side, and the numbers, but not the money. They always have the advantage when it comes to money. So it is up to us to turn out the facts and the numbers.

Will YOU help? Will YOU get involved?

Will YOU tell people, talk to friends, neighbors and relatives? Will YOU show up at town hall meetings and demand answers? Will you call your member of Congress and your Senators? Will YOU join with "Don't Make Us Work Till We Die?" for their actions tomorrow, and join up with US Uncut or On May 12?

If you do, we can win.

Friday, April 29, 2011

House Republicans Overwhelmingly Vote To Phase Out Medicare

Original Link:

By Ian Millhiser

When President Obama proposed ensuring affordable health care to all Americans, Congress spent a year hashing out how best to achieve this goal. Yet when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) decided that he wanted to phase out Medicare, the GOP-controlled House took only two weeks to debate and pass this radical proposal. This afternoon, House Republicans overwhelming endorsed his plan to eliminate Medicare, slash education, and jack up the middle class’ taxes. 235 Republicans supported the Medicare elimination bill, with just 4 GOPers casting a vote to leave Medicare unmolested.

The centerpiece of the House Republicans’ plan is a proposal that repeals traditional Medicare and replaces it with a health insurance voucher that loses its value over time. Because the value of the Republicans’ privatized Medicare replacement does not keep up with the cost of health care, their plan will gradually eliminate Medicare because its increasingly worthless vouchers will eventually only cover a very tiny fraction of the cost of a health insurance plan.

Seniors will feel the effect of the GOP’s draconian plan long before it succeeds in phasing out Medicare. According to the CBO, total health care expenditures for a typical 65-year-old “would be almost 40 percent higher with private coverage under the GOP plan than they would be with a continuation of traditional Medicare” in the very first year that the GOP plan goes into effect:

Of course the GOP budget doesn’t call upon all Americans to share this sacrifice. Seniors may lose their health care, but the wealthiest Americans will all be treated to a massive tax cut.

Tax the Rich: The Battle Cry Paul Ryan Rejects

Original Link:

By Bruce Bartlett

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Rep. Paul Ryan’s widely discussed budget plan, which all but 4 House Republicans voted for on April 15, is that it cuts taxes for the rich and pays for it by raising taxes on the middle class. Whatever one thinks about the economics of this, politically it is a non-starter. Indeed, not only is there no public support for what Ryan is proposing, there is strong support for going in the other direction and raising taxes on the rich.

The tax side of Ryan’s plan says only that the top tax rate on individuals and corporations would be reduced to 25 percent. It says nothing whatsoever about cutting taxes for anyone in the 25 percent bracket or lower. According to the Tax Policy Center, the Ryan proposal would reduce federal revenues by $2.9 trillion over the next decade.

Ryan says that he would also broaden the tax base sufficiently that federal revenues would rise from 15 percent of GDP to 19 percent of GDP. But he doesn’t mention a single one of these supposed base broadeners specifically. However, we know that the largest tax expenditures benefit the middle class enormously. These include the exclusion for employer-provided health insurance, and the deductions for mortgage interest, state and local taxes, charitable contributions, and contributions to pension and retirement plans. Consequently, it is not surprising that an April 15 Gallup poll found that people oppose eliminating major deductions by a 2-to-1 margin, either to pay for lower tax rates or to reduce the budget deficit.

It’s conceivable that Ryan has thought of some way he has yet to disclose whereby the tax base would be broadened entirely by eliminating or scaling back tax preferences for the rich. For example, he could raise the maximum tax rate on dividends and long-term capital gains from 15 percent to 25 percent. But that would run contrary to the point of his exercise, which is to stimulate growth, saving and investment. Moreover, my guess is that the vast majority of the wealthy, who are the primary beneficiaries of the preference for dividends and capital gains, would much rather keep the rate on those forms of income at 15 percent even if it means not reducing the top rate from 35 percent to 25 percent as Ryan proposes. That is because the richer you are, the more likely it is that dividends and capital gains represent the bulk of your income.

Ryan would have to eliminate $2.9 trillion in tax expenditures just to keep revenues from falling. If he also intends to raise revenues by 4 percent of GDP, it’s really hard to see how this can be done without effectively raising taxes on the middle class. No wonder Ryan is keeping secret how he intends to pay for his tax cut for the rich while still raising the tax-GDP ratio. He has consistently refused to give the Congressional Budget Office details of how he plans to broaden the tax base and told it to simply assume that revenues will equal 19 percent of GDP. I think this is dishonest because it allows people to think that taxes will be increased on someone other than themselves.

Ryan says that the House Ways and Means Committee will decide how to broaden the tax base. But it’s hard to see it cutting taxes only for the rich without also cutting taxes for everyone else. I don’t think the committee has ever in its history passed a tax cut that didn’t cut taxes for every income bracket approximately equally, even if it had to create refundable tax credits so that those who pay no federal income taxes will also get a “tax cut.”

It’s reasonable to assume that the era of big tax cuts that are not paid for in any way is over, especially given the April 18 warning from Standard and Poor’s that the U.S. credit rating is at risk unless significant progress is made quickly on reducing projected budget deficits. Therefore, congressional Republicans really have only four options.

1. They can raise taxes on corporations to pay for tax cuts for individuals as was done in the Tax Reform Act of 1986. However, both Republicans and Democrats want to cut the corporate tax rate to be more competitive with other countries, so this option seems like a nonstarter.

2. They can seriously go after the $1.1 trillion of tax expenditures. But it’s hard to see how enough revenue can be raised this way without going after politically popular deductions like that for mortgage interest. Given the dismal state of the housing market, there is no way homeowners will allow this.

3. They can cut spending by many trillions of dollars more than the Ryan plan proposes. But there is already growing opposition to his biggest budget cut, the de facto abolition of Medicare and its replacement by a voucher intentionally designed to pay less than the per capita cost of health care for Medicare beneficiaries. An April 20 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 37 percent of people favor this proposal, with 60 percent opposed. An April 18 McClatchy-Maris poll found that 80 percent of people, including 70 percent of Tea Party supporters, oppose cutting Medicare at all to reduce the deficit.

4. Finally, there is the option of ditching the tax cuts for the rich altogether and raising their taxes. The previously cited Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 62 percent of people believe that higher taxes will be necessary to get the deficit under control versus only 36 percent who think spending cuts alone will do the job. The same poll found an overwhelming 72 percent of people favor raising taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit. The McClatchy-Maris poll found 64 percent of voters favor higher taxes on the rich, including 45 percent of Tea Party supporters.

I think option 4 is the most likely. There is simply no place in a deficit reduction package for big new tax cuts. We can’t even afford the ones we have, which is why former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan called for getting rid of all the Bush tax cuts in an April 17 interview. Nor does it make any sense to do significant deficit reduction without higher revenues making a contribution. As Reagan budget director David Stockman put it in an April 11 interview, “It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn’t part of the solution. It’s a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes.”

Ryan is starting to get pushback from his own constituents on his effort to cut taxes for the rich while slashing Medicare. On April 19, he was jeered at a town hall meeting in Milton, Wisconsin, by citizens demanding that the rich pay more. I think the more people learn the details of the Ryan plan, the more all Republicans are going to start hearing jeers from voters.

A Medicare Phase-Out By Any Other Name Still Stinks

Original Link:

By Dave Johnson

The Republicans voted to phase out Medicare and use the money for even more tax cuts for the rich. The public found out and turned out. So now they are coming up with new ways to mask the same thing. They call them "triggers," "across-the-board cuts" and "spending caps" but these are all really just about cutting Medicare and Social Security and education and giving more and more tax cuts to the rich. Please don't be fooled. And please get active and let them know you do not like what they are up to.

The "Ryan Plan" To Phase Out Medicare

A Republican named Paul Ryan came up with a plan to phase out Medicare and use the money to give even more tax cuts to the rich. Hence the name “Ryan Plan.” The plan replaces Medicare with a “premium support” voucher that covers some of the cost of insurance, (as if an ill 80-year-old can get insurance at all. The trick was to start the phase-out in 10 years, hoping people won't notice.

While this phase-out of Medicare cuts “government spending” it just shifts that cost to you and me, and actually dramatically increases the overall costs. The Center for Economic and Policy Research calculates that it adds $7 in individual costs (you and me) for every $1 it cuts in “government spending.” But the mask that it cuts "government spending" gives them cover for even more tax cuts at the top.

Town Hall Anger

Last week every Republican in the House (save for a few) voted to say, “Yes, let’s do this.” Then they went home and met with constituents at town hall meetings, and were surprised to learn that regular people are smarter than they thought they were. They thought they could just slip this past people, under the cover of deficit hysteria. Instead people shows up at town hall meetings demanding answers. And they were not happy about what the Republicans were doing.

So now, returning from exposure to the unwashed masses they are saturating the airwaves with corporate-funded propaganda, ads with soothing voices telling us how good for us the Republican plan to get rid of Medicare will be. And they are working on new plans to do the same thing, but to make it less obvious what they are up to. "Triggers. "Caps." "Across-the-board cuts (that leave out military and cut taxes at the top.)" Etc.

The Polls

Poll after poll after poll after poll shows that the public understands where the deficits came from -- tax cuts for the rich, huge increases in military spending and the costs of the recession -- and wants their government to fix these causes of the deficit. But the people are not in control of the government, the powerful few who own the giant corporations are, so the government keeps coming back again and again with schemes to cut the things government does for We, the People and use the savings to cut taxes on the wealthy and the corporations.

Demand The Details

Do not accept any plan that does not detail specifically what they are doing to fix the problems. Any plan that does not clearly raise taxes on the rich, cut the military spending and provide jobs and a solid economic foundation for the future by investing in infrastructure and alternative energy is not addressing the problems. (The People's Budget is a plan that does these things.)

These are the things that the public is demanding. This is why the powerful forces in control of the government keep coming up with shadowy detail-free schemes like "triggers" and "spending caps." They are trying to mask tax cuts for the rich and cuts in the things We, the People do for each other like Medicare, Social Security and education.

Get Angry

We are bombarded with scheme after scheme to take away what is ours, so that a wealthy few can have even more. They have plan after plan. Here is comedian Lee Camp explaining that "Evil People Have Plans":

Don't just take it, foil their plans. React. Get angry.

And then:

Get Active

Get out there and get your voice heard. Call your member of Congress and both senators. Show up at town hall meetings and demonstrations and protests. Sign up to be on mailing lists of organizations like Campaign for America's Future, MoveOn, Srengthen Social Security and Don't Make Us Work Till We Die!, Credo Action, Coalition on Human Needs, US Uncut, On May 12, Campaign for Community Change, Working America and others who are working to fight back.

America’s Blue Chip Tax Cheats

Original Link:

By Christopher Moraff

The country’s largest corporations avoid their fair share. US Uncut is on the case.

Like lots of kids his age, 17-year old Kevin Shields favors his hair long and his baseball cap backward. But Shields—who corresponds regularly with Noam Chomsky—isn’t a typical high school senior. On a chilly Saturday morning in late March, he is on a city street corner leading a group of fair tax advocates under the auspices of US Uncut Philly, protesting against Bank of America for its failure to pay any U.S. income taxes in 2009 and 2010.

In between chants of, “When they say cut back, we say fight back!,” Shields engages passersby, educating them on the finer points of corporate tax law with a level of proficiency and confidence that belies his youth. “I’ve always known that there were two sets of rules in this country: one for the rich elite and one for the rest of us,” Shields says.

US Uncut Philly is one of more than 40 local chapters of a growing movement that took to the streets on March 26 to protest what its members see as a grave injustice: corporate tax avoidance. A 2008 Government Accountability Office report found that roughly a quarter of the largest U.S. companies reported zero tax liability in 2005. A more recent analysis conducted last year for The New York Times determined that of the 500 companies on Standard & Poor’s stock index, 115 paid a tax rate of less than 20 percent for the past five years, well below the 35 percent prescribed by tax law.

But that’s nothing compared to companies like Boeing, which actually received a tax rebate totaling $75 million over the years 2008-2010 (while recording $9.7 billion in profits), or General Electric (GE), which had an effective tax rate of –15.8 percent between 2006 and 2010, thanks to a tax department often referred to as “the world’s best tax law firm,” according to the Times. Citizens for Tax Justice estimates that corporate loopholes will cost the U.S. Treasury Department $365 billion in 2011.

How do corporations pull it off? Mainly through hundreds of so-called “tax expenditures” in U.S. tax law. One of the most expensive tax breaks is a rule that defers taxes on profits made by U.S. businesses overseas until that money is brought back to the United States. Industry estimates put the total earnings affected by the rule at $1 trillion.

“Special tax breaks are just another form of spending—instead of giving a corporation a government grant or contract, the IRS gives them a special break on their taxes,” says Seth Hanlon, director of fiscal reform for the Center for American Progress. President Barack Obama has come out in support of reforming the corporate tax code, but critics say his January appointment of GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness is not an auspicious sign.

The March 26 protest was US Uncut’s second national action. The first, held February 26, spanned 50 cities and came just 12 days after its founding by a 23-year-old journalist named Carl Gibson. Gibson took a page from the British group UK Uncut to launch a grassroots movement in his native Jackson, Miss. US Uncut activists typically engage in low-level civil disobedience.

The organization’s next major national action is scheduled for April 18, aka Tax Day. “The day I stop fighting,” Shields says, “is the day I start wasting my time on earth.”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

12 Worst Corporate Tax Dodgers

Original Link:

By Rebecca Tarbotton and Matt Leonard

Billionaire real estate investor and famous tax evader Leona Helmsley once said: “Only the little people pay taxes." It turns out Helmsley was all too right.

At a time when billions are being slashed from the federal budget and we’ face cuts to necessary health, education and environmental services, corporations are doing their part to keep their pockets padded and the profits as far from the people as possible.

Last month’s discovery that GE paid zero in taxes has exploded across the news. But GE is not alone. Rainforest Action Network (RAN) reviewed the top four banks, oil and coal companies in the country, and found that all of them are gaming the system. In fact, Bank of America, Citi, Massey Energy and Chevron have also all paid zero in federal income taxes this year or in year’s past.

RAN reviewed 12 of the dirtiest corporate tax dodgers: Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Chevron, BP, Shell, Exxon, Massey Energy, Alpha Natural Resources, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal. These 12 banks, oil and coal companies are largely responsible for foreclosing on millions of people’s homes and polluting our air, water and climate. At the same time, we found that they pay next to nothing into a tax system that provides the very services that protect the homeless, the sick and our environment.

Our new infographic, Dirty Corporate Tax Dodgers, shows that banks, oil and coal companies made billions in profits last year and paid much less than their fair share in taxes. In fact, we found that if these 12 banks, oil and coal companies actually paid the IRS corporate tax rate of 35% they would be giving back $62 billion this tax season. That is almost double the $38 billion in federal budget cuts.

To add insult to injury, while these multi-billion dollar industries we raking in the profits and evading their taxes they were also paying millions in CEO compensation and lobby dollars. These corporations are happy to pay large sums to manipulate our democracy but aren’t so interested in paying to support it.

We were shocked to find that:

Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell together made $1.26 trillion in gross revenues, but paid a paltry 2.04% average tax rate;

Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo collectively dished out $83.4 million in CEO compensation;

and, while the top 4 banks made $454.4 billion in gross revenue, the top 4 oil companies made $1.26 trillion (yes that’s a ‘t), and the top coal corporations made $17 billion, they collectively only paid $8.74 billion in federal taxes.

Last year, the American people faced 3.8 million foreclosure filings due to reckless Wall Street banks, footed a whopping $115 billion to bail out those banks, and lost 130,000 people to coal pollution-related deaths. We know these dirty corporations are costing us dearly. Unfortunately, now we also that they’re not paying up.

So, let’s get one thing straight. America is not broke, and these dirty corporations don’t need any more handouts, bailouts, or subsidies. We don’t have a money problem we have a priorities problem. We’re slashing billions from our budget, much of which will come out of social services and environmental protections, while allowing corporate giants to slip ever-increasing profits into offshore accounts.

By reversing years of tax giveaways to the largest corporations, Congress could raise trillions in revenue not only covering our budget deficit but also enhancing education, health and environmental programs that safeguard our families and our future.

Pissed off? You should be. It’s time corporate tax dodgers pay their fair share.

General Electric: King of the Tax Dodgers

Original Link:

By Chuck Collins

Congressional Republicans are about to cut the Tsunami Warning System from the National Weather Service budget. But if General Electric paid their fair share of taxes, we could reverse this and billions in additional budget cuts.

General Electric Company -- known for its light bulbs, refrigerators -- and lately, for its nuclear reactors -- is one of the country's biggest tax dodgers.

Recent filings show that in 2010, General Electric reported global profits of $14.2 billion, claiming $5.1 billion from U.S. operations.

How much did it pay in U.S. corporate taxes? Zero. Actually, we taxpayers paid G.E. $3.2 billion.

As David Kocieniewski reports in the New York Times, G.E. "has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than most multinational companies."

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, between 2006 and 2010, General Electric reported $26.3 billion in pretax profits to its shareholders but paid no U.S. taxes. In fact, they received $4.2 billion in refunds from Uncle Sam for an effective tax rate of negative 15.8 percent over these five years.

General Electric accomplishes this feat by using is political muscle in Congress and lobbying for special tax treatment and corporate welfare. It also aggressively moves is profits to offshore tax havens including Bermuda, Singapore, and Luxembourg.

While several divisions of GE have struggled over the last decade, GE's accountants think of themselves as a profit center. The company's 975-member tax division includes many former Treasury and IRS officials who never a met a loophole they didn't love.

Why do we tolerate the behavior of companies like General Electric? These Benedict Arnold corporations reap all the benefits of doing business in the U.S. -yet avoid their responsibilities for paying. Next time they have a fire at one of their plants, they should call the Fire Department in Bermuda.

GE will only pay its fair share when enough citizens wake up and demand that our politicians crack down on tax dodgers. No politician should be allowed to propose a budget cut or moan about austerity until they crack down on the scofflaws such as General Electric.

15 Top Corporate Tax Dodgers

Original Link:

As GE continues to draw criticism for avoiding U.S. taxes, The Daily Beast looks at other corporations, from Google to News Corp., that have creatively kept billions from Uncle Sam.

As reported Friday, General Electric concluded 2010 with $14.2 billion in profit, for which the Internal Revenue Service is paying them a tax benefit of $3.2 billion, thanks to a shrewd use of U.S. tax loopholes, aggressive lobbying and favorable international tax provisions. They’re far from alone.

Gallery: 15 Major Corporate Tax Dodgers

“Companies are becoming much more sophisticated in the way they arbitrage the U.S. tax system,” says Howard Gleckman, a resident fellow at The Urban Institute, which analyzes economic issues in the U.S. “GE is not the only one, there are many other companies doing the same thing.”

Last year, Google reduced its tax burden by $3.1 billion by altering its tax practices. Boeing hasn’t paid any federal corporate income taxes in the last three years, despite earning $10 billion in domestic pre-tax profit. Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and Forest Laboratories habitually avoid paying U.S. income taxes by recording profits in a country a world away from where the sales occur. (For reference, interactive explanations of the tax strategies of Google and GE can be found here and here.) A study released in 2008 by the Government Accountability Office concluded that 57 percent of U.S. companies doing business in the country paid “no federal income taxes for at least one year between 1998 and 2005.”

“Companies don’t even have to be creative,” says Robert Willens, a taxation professor at Columbia Business School. “All they have to do is attribute or ascribe as much income as possible to foreign subsidiaries.” Companies register their intangible assets—intellectual property, for example—and income outside of the U.S. and register their liabilities and expenses in the U.S. to effectually reduce their taxable domestic income. Ireland and the Caribbean Islands are common tax havens.

“It doesn’t matter where your corporate headquarters is. If you’re Google, your income is I.P.… the patents aren’t registered in the U.S. For drug companies, the income is earned to their Irish subsidiary,” says Gleckman. “When you say that a company is in the U.S., I don’t exactly know what that means.”

Critics argue that the avoidance of corporate income tax hurts the economy and hampers domestic investment and job creation, but defenders of the practices argue it’s the only way their companies can stay competitive on a global scale as the American corporate tax rate of 35 percent is one of the highest in the world. (The average effective corporate tax rate is closer to 25 percent.) This month, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced his desire to cut the top tax rate for corporations and individuals to 25 percent, but it remains unclear where the revenue to support such a change would come from.

“GE is a symptom of a much bigger problem and GE management uses the tax code for their benefit,” says Gleckman. “I’m not offended by GE, I’m offended by a tax system that allows this to go on. They have an obligation to their shareholders and their workers to maximize after-tax profits.”

Of course, the irony is that GE Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt is the same person Barack Obama appointed to head the panel of external economic advisers created in 2009 to help steer the U.S. out of the economic crisis. Says Willens, “When [Immelt] was appointed to that position, people who had familiarity with GE’s tax practices had a good laugh, which are rare for tax professionals.”

In highlighting 15 of the major corporate tax dodgers, The Daily Beast focused on the largest American companies, as well as ones that are notorious in accounting circles for consistency in doing whatever they can to minimize their U.S. tax liability.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tea Party-backing Koch Industries is major carbon polluter

Original Link:

By Brad Johnson

Koch Industries, the private company of the billionaire Koch brothers, is one of the primary sources of carbon pollution in the United States. However, the actual emissions profile of the diversified giant, with its oil and gas, chemicals, cattle, forestry, and synthetics holdings, is unknown, because of the lack of mandatory carbon reporting in the United States. Furthermore, Koch is exempt from the risk disclosures that are standard for public corporations. The financial status of Koch Industries is similarly clouded in secret, with only vague statements of annual revenue around $100 billion and the Forbes estimates of the principals' extraordinary wealth. Charles and David Koch have directed many millions of their shared $43 billion net worth into a vast propaganda machine denying the threat of global warming pollution, corrupting American politics to permit their pollution-based enterprise to continue.

Below, the Wonk Room makes some estimates of the Koch Industries carbon footprint, based on the pollution generated by its activities and from the use of the products it sells:

The Koch Industries carbon footprint is about 300 million tons. With the assumption that Koch has a carbon intensity on the order of oil majors such as Chevron and ExxonMobil, each billion dollars of revenue corresponds to 2 to 4 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases. Therefore, each year, Koch Industries is likely responsible for about 300 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution every year. Flint Hills Resources, Koch's refining subsidiary, processes 300 million barrels of oil a year. This one company -- with its refining, pipeline, chemical, fertilizer, cattle, and forestry operations -- is involved in up to 5 percent of the entire United States 7-gigaton carbon footprint.

Koch climate denial is dirty self interest. The virulence of the Koch brothers' opposition to climate policy -- to anything that would make polluters instead of society pay for the cost of their pollution -- is purely a matter of self-interest. The immense profitability of their carbon holdings depends on their freedom to pollute without consequence -- a toxic freedom they have sold to the American public, and particularly the Tea Party faithful organized by the various Koch front groups, as inherent to the American dream. If their pollution was fairly priced in a free-market system such as the cap-and-trade markets the Koch successfully demonized in Washington (but failed in their attempt to do so in California), the Kochs would be facing costs of anywhere from $1 billion to $40 billion a year. Spending well less than $1 billion a year on their political and philanthropic activities, the Kochs have made a brilliant investment to defend their killer business model.

The carbon liability of the Kochs is hundreds of billions of dollars. Over the lifetime of the Koch Industries, as it has grown from a $100 million enterprise built on oil refining in Stalinist Russia to one of the largest private companies in the world, its cumulative carbon footprint rivals that of most nations. Experts estimate that the social cost of carbon -- the true cost to society of global warming pollution -- is between $30 and $300 per ton of carbon dioxide. The potential liability the Kochs face for having knowingly destabilized the global climate system -- and funded a propaganda network to prevent political action to end their pollution -- represents practically the whole of their wealth.

Charles and David Koch each have a carbon footprint of 100 million tons. The average American has a carbon footprint of 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year -- much greater than the European average of nine tons, the Chinese average of five tons, or India's annual average of 1.4 tons of carbon dioxide per person. However, the annual carbon footprint of the Charles and David Koch is on the order of 100 million tons of carbon dioxide each. Just as their personal wealth is staggeringly greater than that of the average American, so is their damage to this planet.

Koch's carbon pollution is inherent to its business model, putting them in direct opposition to people who care about preserving God's creation and their children's future.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What would Abbie Hoffman do to stop the Koch brothers?

Original Link:

By Robert Greenwald

He levitated the Pentagon, brought down Lyndon B. Johnson, shamed Richard Nixon, challenged Wall Street and pioneered a cultural revolution.

Sometimes I still hear his Brooklyn meets Boston accent when I think about Abbie Hoffman, his family or his legacy. I directed “Steal This Movie” to capture what I consider to be Abbie’s greatest gift: using satire and culture to impact and inspire people to take action. “Steal This Movie” was the last narrative film I did, and Abbie inspires me to this day.

Abbie died 22 years ago this month and that’s got me thinking about what he would do to stop the Koch brothers.

Tell me at my Koch Brothers Exposed campaign Facebook page.

Remember when he nominated a pig for president at the 1968 Democratic National Convention? Whether it was the Vietnam War, income inequality or environmental causes, Abbie always struck the right note.

That’s how I first heard his name. His action on Wall Street – where he literally threw cash down to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange – merged intrigue and interest with activism in a way no one had even conceived of. He believed in never making it boring, which is advice I’ve followed as a young New Yorker picketing and protesting lunch counter segregation at the Harlem Woolworth’s, and later as a director and political activist.

But behind the strategic humor and laughs was a serious and lifelong conversation about the haves and have-nots. Abbie would be disgusted at how much money there is in politics today. I know he’d have a few zingers aimed squarely at the big corporations that have demonstrated they own what Abbie would refer to as “the whole pickle.”

That’s why I know Abbie would take on the Kochs full throttle. More than anyone else today, the Kochs have a thirst for unchecked power, and that’s a trait Abbie detested.

That two oil scions could amass $43 billion in wealth and spend $324 million exerting political influence would have infuriated him. But it also would’ve inspired Abbie, because it is a fight about the lifeblood of our democracy, which is at stake today.

Let’s make Abbie our muse as we think about ways to stop the Koch brothers quest to remake our democracy in their image. Our Koch Brothers Exposed and Brave New Foundation videos are meant to be equal parts informative, entertaining and engaging. It’s a model with Abbie’s fingerprints.

Thinking about Abbie today, I wager he’d acknowledge social media as the great force for democratization. He’d have an iPhone (after all, Jerry Rubin was an early Apple investor), he’d have a page on Facebook and would interact with critics, imitators and allies through Twitter. His YouTube channel would feature young protestors everywhere from Cairo to Madison, WI.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Koch-funded group mounts cut-and-paste attack on regional climate initiatives

Original Link:

by David Anderson

Fresh off last year’s successful defeat of federal climate legislation in the U.S. Senate, the oil baron Koch brothers and their dirty-energy buddies are now bent on dismantling one of the nation’s last hopes for doing anything about climate change in the near term: regional climate accords.

Today, a total of 32 states are active participants or observing members in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast, the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, or the Western Climate Initiative.

That number will get a lot smaller if the American Legislative Exchange Council—a D.C.-based conservative advocacy organization funded by Koch family foundations, ExxonMobil, and other oil companies and big corporations—gets its way.

ALEC offers legislative templates to state lawmakers who don’t want the hassle of writing their own conservative bills. Raegan Weber, ALEC’s senior director of public affairs, says the group has produced 800 to 1,000 pieces of so-called “model legislation.” Access to those templates is restricted to legislators who pay $100 for a two-year membership, which makes it difficult to trace a bill’s language back to ALEC.

But thanks to a blog post by a conservative states-rights activist in Florida (and a tidbit in one of ALEC’s own press releases), we can make out at least part of what’s in ALEC’s template for “State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives,” one of the offerings on the group’s environment webpage. And it looks like the template has been getting a lot of use lately.

Language that regurgitates all of the right’s favorite—and in many cases fallacious—anti-cap-and-trade talking points has cropped up in nearly identical form in resolutions or bills in at least six states:

WHEREAS, there has been no credible economic analysis of the costs associated with carbon reduction mandates and the consequential effect of the increasing costs of doing business in the State of ______;

WHEREAS, forcing business, industry, and food producers to reduce carbon emissions through government mandates and cap-and-trade policies under consideration for the regional climate initiative will increase the cost of doing business, push companies to do business with other states or nations, and increase consumer costs for electricity, fuel, and food;

WHEREAS, the Congressional Budget Office warns that the cost of cap-and-trade policies will be borne by consumers and will place a disproportionately high burden on poorer families;

WHEREAS, simply reducing carbon emissions in the State of ______ will not have a significant impact on international carbon reduction, especially while countries like China, Russia, Mexico, and India emit an ever-increasing amount of carbon into the atmosphere;

WHEREAS, a tremendous amount of economic growth would be sacrificed for a reduction in carbon emissions that would have no appreciable impact on global concentrations of CO2;

WHEREAS, no state or nation has enhanced economic opportunities for its citizens or increased Gross Domestic Product through cap and trade or other carbon reduction policies; and

WHEREAS, Europe’s cap and trade system has been undermined by political favoritism, accounting tricks and has failed to achieve the carbon reduction targets,

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the legislature of the State of ______ urges the Governor to withdraw [state] from the regional climate initiative.

Last year in Michigan, the language appeared in a resolution [PDF] introduced in the state House of Representatives, demanding that the state drop out of the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord.

This year, the language has shown up in resolutions in Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington [PDFs] calling for the states to quit the Western Climate Initiative.

In New Hampshire, it popped up in the “findings” section of a House bill that would repeal the cap-and-trade system established under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The bill’s lead sponsor, state Rep. Richard Barry (R), looked a bit like a dog caught with the family cat in its mouth when he was asked to explain the language at a public hearing; he nervously said that none of the bill’s sponsors had written this particular section, but stopped short of revealing ALEC as the source of the text. That didn’t sit well with Rep. James Garrity (R), chair of the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee, who later explained, “Our committee does not feel that editorials belong in laws.” The matter was resolved by dropping the ALEC text, and the amended bill went on to pass the House.

The New Mexico resolution hasn’t fared so well; it stalled in committee, according to sponsor Rep. Tim Lewis (R). Unlike Barry in New Hampshire, Lewis readily acknowledges that the language in his resolution came from ALEC, but adds, “I am not a member of that group.” A first-term legislator who’s still busy learning the ropes in Santa Fe, Lewis admits he didn’t put much time into examining ALEC’s claims about cap-and-trade. As a teacher, he might be unhappy to learn the copycat text is full of questionable claims (find out just how questionable).

“I don’t mind being an observer in the Western Climate Initiative,” says Lewis, who is proud to support wind and solar power. He says he just worries that implementing cap-and-trade policies could hurt poor families in his state. Sound familiar?

Oregon state Rep. Kim Thatcher (R), sponsor of the resolution in her state, seems to be more thoroughly on board with the Koch brothers’ agenda. An aide to the lawmaker, who spoke on condition of not being named, said Thatcher contacted all the right groups before moving forward with the resolution, including: Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded organization that has been waging a very public assault on regional climate accords (get that story); the Heritage Foundation, recipient of more than $3.3 million in Koch funds from 1997 to 2008; and the Cascade Policy Institute, considered by Koch Industries to be one of the few reputable sources of information on “climate controversies.” For now, the resolution is stuck in committee.

Is there legislation in your state to pull out of a regional climate deal? Check to see if it has the ALEC language and tell us what you find out.

Get Off Your @ssIn 2010, Greenpeace published a report about the Koch brothers’ funding of climate-denial groups, and Koch Industries responded by saying, “we believe science—not politicized opinion—must play a central role in the discussion about climate and related policy proposals. Both a free society and the scientific method require an open and honest airing of all sides.”

Can we look forward to an open airing of the ALEC text that’s being surreptitiously slipped into state-level bills and resolutions around the country? And will we see the text corrected so that it is in fact honest and all “politicized opinion” is removed?

GOP Spreads Corporate Tax Disinformation, America Fights Back

Original Link:

By Allison Kilkenny

US Uncut launched another nationwide day of protest this week involving around forty participating chapters. The activism strategies again ranged from traditional protest to more creative forms of occupations such as San Francisco’s flash mob in a Bank of America.

This latest campaign follows a busy week for the fledgling organization. US Uncut, along with the Yes Men, have been at the center of the media’s attention following their successful pranktivist duping of the AP.

The anti-corporate tax dodging movement is growing momentum during a time when GOP leaders such as Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann, and Tim Pawlenty propagate daily the lie that corporations are already overtaxed in America. While corporations claim they’re taxed at 35 percent, their actual effective tax rate is much, much lower after deductions, credits, and write-offs.

During the 1950s, the decade in which more people joined the middle class than at any time in history - before or since - corporations paid 49 percent of their profits in taxes. Last year, it was about half that rate, a decidedly more modest 26 percent. In 2010, corporate tax collections totaled $191 billion - down 8 percent from $207 billion as recently as 2000.

Perhaps a more telling yardstick, corporate tax revenue in 2009 came to just 1 percent of gross domestic product - the lowest collection level since 1936, or three-quarters of a century ago. In 2010, it edged up to a puny 1.3 percent - the second-lowest since 1940. Even worse, the shriveled tax collections came at a time when corporations were registering an all-time high in profits. At the end of 2010, corporations posted an annualized profit of $1.65 trillion in the fourth quarter. In other words, the more they made, the less they paid.

America has a revenue problem because of a two-tier taxation system that steals from the poor and offers corporate welfare to the rich. While tax evasion has always been an American business tradition, the practice has now reached frenzied proportions where the government is no longer simply turning a blind eye to the practice, but actively facilitating it.

The Fed gave hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to hedge funds and other investors with addresses in the Cayman Islands during the bailout. The addresses belong to companies with American affiliations like Pimco, Blackstone (Pete Peterson’s company that seeks to privatize Social Security,) and Waterfall TALF Opportunity, a company owned by Christy Mack, wife of John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley. The government is now actively subsidizing tax evasion by using citizen dollars to fund corporate stealing for companies like Blackstone that seek to privatize Social Security, which would rob poor Americans of one of their last great social protections.

The legend of welfare kings and queens is true, but these societal parasites don’t live in the ghettos. They live in the Hamptons and on Wall Street. Many Americans now realize this and are beginning to fight back.

Thousands turned out this week to protest Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget cuts in Michigan.

"The script Gov. Snyder has written for his Republican cronies is not the kind of Michigan we want to live in," Herb Sanders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers told the crowd. "If the politicians won't listen to us at the Capitol, then we're prepared to take the fight to them in their home districts."

Sarah Palin graced Wisconsin with her presence for the sole purpose of stating approval of Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to strip unions of the right to collectively bargain. She was enthusiastically booed by a counter-protest, a response that so flustered right-wing mouthpiece Andrew Breitbart that he rushed the podium to scream “GO TO HELL!” at the crowd before encouraging a community that had organized the event to ironically applaud the death of community organizing.

Every week, there are more teacher and students protests opposing education cuts, labor protests demanding the right to collectively bargain (not the right to higher wages or safer working conditions, but the mere right to a seat at the table,) and more citizens gather to oppose the two-tier America where the poor suffer while rich corporations raid the Treasury.

Beware the "Middle Ground" of the Great Budget Debate

Original Link:

By Robert Reich

How debates are framed is critical because the "center" or "middle ground" is supposedly halfway between the two extremes.

We continue to hear that the Great Budget Debate has two sides: The president and the Democrats want to cut the budget deficit mainly by increasing taxes on the rich and reducing military spending, but not by privatizing Medicare. On the other side are Paul Ryan, Republicans, and the right, who want cut the deficit by privatizing Medicare and slicing programs that benefit poorer Americans, while lowering taxes on the rich.

By this logic, the center lies just between.


According to the most recent Washington Post-ABC poll, 78 percent of Americans oppose cutting spending on Medicare as a way to reduce the debt, and 72 percent support raising taxes on the rich -- including 68 percent of Independents and 54 percent of Republicans.

In other words, the center of America isn't near halfway between the two sides. It's overwhelmingly on the side of the president and the Democrats.

I'd wager if Americans also knew two-thirds of Ryan's budget cuts come from programs serving lower and moderate-income Americans and over 70 percent of the savings fund tax cuts for the rich -- meaning it's really just a giant transfer from the less advantaged to the super advantaged without much deficit reduction at all -- far more would be against it.

And if people knew that the Ryan plan would channel hundreds of billions of their Medicare dollars into the pockets of private for-profit heath insurers, almost everyone would be against it.

The Republican plan shouldn't be considered one side of a great debate. It shouldn't be considered at all. Americans don't want it.

Which is why I get worried when I hear about so-called "bipartisan" groups on Capitol Hill seeking a grand compromise, such as the Senate's so-called "Gang of Six."

Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, a member of that Gang, says they're near agreement on a plan that will chart a "middle ground" between the House Republican budget and the plan outlined last week by the president.

Watch your wallets.

In my view, even the president doesn't go nearly far enough in the direction most Americans would approve. All he wants to do, essentially, is end the Bush tax windfalls for the wealthy -- which were designed to be ended in 2010 in any event -- and close a few loopholes.

But why shouldn't we go back to the tax rates we had thirty years ago, which required the rich to pay much higher shares of their incomes? One of the great scandals of our age is how concentrated income and wealth have become. The top 1 percent now gets twice the share of national income it took home thirty years ago.

If the super rich paid taxes at the same rates they did three decades ago, they'd contribute $350 billion more per year than they are now -- amounting to trillions more over the next decade. That's enough to ensure every young American is healthy and well-educated and that the nation's infrastructure is up to world-class standards.

Nor does the president's proposal go nearly far enough in cutting military spending, which is not only out of control but completely unrelated to our nation's defense needs -- fancy weapons systems designed for an age of conventional warfare; hundreds of billions of dollars for the Navy and Air Force, when most of the action is with the Army, Marines, and Special Forces; and billions more for programs no one can justify and few can understand.

If Americans understood how much they're paying for defense and how little they're getting, they'd demand a defense budget at least 25 percent smaller than it is today.

Finally, the president's proposed budget doesn't deal with the scandal of the nation's schools in poor and middle-class communities -- schools whose teachers are paid under $50,000 a year, whose classrooms are crammed, that can't afford textbooks or science labs, that have abandoned after-school programs and courses like history and art. Most school budgets depend manly on local property taxes that continue to drop in lower-income communities. The federal government should come to their rescue.

To think of the "center" as roughly halfway between the president's and Paul Ryan's proposals is to ignore what Americans need and want. For our political representatives to find a "middle ground" between the two would be a travesty.

Poll: Best way to fight deficits: Raise taxes on the rich

Original Link:

By Steven Thomma

Alarmed by rising national debt and increasingly downbeat about their country's course, Americans are clear about how they want to attack the government's runway budget deficits: raise taxes on the wealthy and keep hands off of Medicare and Medicaid.

At the same time, they say that the government should not raise the legal debt ceiling, which the government must do soon to borrow more money, despite warnings that failing to do so would force the government into default, credit markets into turmoil and the economy into a tailspin.

Those are among the findings of a national McClatchy-Marist poll taking the country's pulse just as President Barack Obama and Congress launch what could be a multi-year debate on the role of government and how to finance it.

Obama heads to northern Virginia on Tuesday and California on Wednesday to pitch his long-term budget proposals, as lawmakers from Congress are taking a spring recess, with most in their home districts.

On tackling the deficit, voters by a margin of 2-to-1 support raising taxes on incomes above $250,000, with 64 percent in favor and 33 percent opposed.

Independents supported higher taxes on the wealthy by 63-34 percent; Democrats by 83-15 percent; and Republicans opposed by 43-54 percent.

Support for higher taxes rose by 5 percentage points after Obama called for that as one element of his deficit-reduction strategy last week. Opposition dropped by 6 points. The poll was conducted before and after the speech.

Americans clearly don't want the government to cut Medicare, the government health program for the elderly, or Medicaid, the program for the poor. Republicans in the House of Representatives voted last week to drastically restructure and reduce those programs, while Obama calls for trimming their costs but leaving them essentially intact.

Voters oppose cuts to those programs by 80-18 percent. Even among conservatives, only 29 percent supported cuts, and 68 percent opposed them.

Public views are more mixed on cutting defense spending, with 44 percent supporting cuts and 54 percent opposed.

One dividing line is education: College graduates want to cut defense spending by 63-36 percent. Non-college graduates oppose cutting the Pentagon by 61-36 percent.

No matter how the government tackles its deficits and debt, Americans don't want it to borrow any more. By 69-24 percent, voters oppose raising the legal ceiling for debt. That includes Democrats, who oppose it by 53-36 percent, independents, who oppose it by 74-22 percent, and Republicans, who oppose it by 79-16 percent.

Other findings:

•Only 44 percent of voters approve of Obama's job performance, while 49 percent disapprove. That was down from 48 percent approval in January, and marked the 17th straight month that his approval has been below 50 percent;

•Only 34 percent of voters approve, and 61 percent disapprove, of the way he's handling the budget deficit, projected to total about $1.6 trillion this year;

•Only 30 percent approve of the way Republicans in Congress are doing their job, while 63 percent disapprove.
Underlying it all, Americans are in a pessimistic mood. Fewer than one in three — 32 percent of registered voters — think the country's headed in the right direction, while 63 percent think it's headed in the wrong direction.

Among all adults, including non-voters, the tally is 31-64 percent, the poorest since November 2007 at the onset of the Great Recession.

"We're going through a period of partisan bickering in Washington, lots of posturing and an economy that has not taken hold the way people want," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the poll.

Like every president, Obama is a lightning rod for public sentiments.

"I think he's doing the best he can with very little help," said Lynn King, a retired public school teacher in the town of Pelzer, S. C. "He needs a chance to develop his programs."

"He's got our country in the biggest debt that we can ever get in," countered Jack Millwood, a retired insurance agent in Gaffney, S.C. "I just think he's overspent on too much."

The survey suggested a disconnect between the country and the mood in Washington, where Obama and House Republicans congratulated themselves for their recent hard-fought agreement to cut spending. That fight took the government to the brink of a shutdown and produced spending cuts of $38.5 billion, or about 1 percent of the annual federal budget.

"Just because they came together in the 11th hour, that doesn't impress people right now," said Miringoff.


This survey of 1,274 adults was conducted on April 10-14. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the continental United States were interviewed by telephone. Telephone numbers were selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. To increase coverage, this land-line sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers. The two samples were then combined.

Results are statistically significant within �3.0 percentage points. There are 1,084 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within �3.0 percentage points. There are 551 registered voters who completed the survey before President Obama's April 13th speech and 470 registered voters who completed the survey after his speech. The results for these subsets are statistically significant within �4.5 percentage points. The error margin increases for cross-tabulations.

Much corporate political spending stays hidden

Original Link:,0,5518964.story

By Noam N. Levey and Kim Geiger

A Times review finds only a few of America's major energy, healthcare and financial companies fully disclose their political spending.

Reporting from Washington— Despite mounting calls for greater transparency, only a few of the country's 75 leading energy, healthcare and financial services corporations fully disclose political spending, according to a review of company records and state and federal campaign finance reports.

While complying with legal requirements to report direct donations to candidates, the vast majority of these companies — many of which are seeking legislative favors from the new Congress — do not reveal information even to their shareholders about support for politically active trade associations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Groups such as the chamber, some of which spend millions of dollars on elections, are not required to reveal their financial supporters. And companies are not required to report their donations to those groups.

The money fuels a parallel, opaque system of political giving that plays a growing role in national elections and is emerging as a 2012 campaign issue. President Obama is considering an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose political donations, and congressional Democrats have filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission demanding more disclosure.

What information is publicly available suggests that substantial corporate political spending remains in the dark, leading to an incomplete, and at times misleading, picture of companies' efforts to influence legislation and elections, the Times review indicates.

Only 14 of the country's 75 leading energy, healthcare and financial services companies reported payments to industry trade associations in 2009. But those 14 alone gave more than $23.5 million for lobbying and political purposes, according to company postings.

The remaining 61 companies in those industries did not disclose any payments. That same year, however, the chamber and seven other leading trade groups representing the three industries took in more than $1.3 billion, more than the state of Vermont collected in taxes. These groups, in turn, spent some $500 million on lobbying and other political activity such as television advertising, tax records show.

Company giving to trade associations for political campaigns can dwarf direct donations to candidates, according to records from corporations that voluntarily report such giving.

Political action committees operated by Prudential Financial, for example, gave $218,230 to candidates and other committees in 2010. By comparison, the company gave the chamber and other trade groups more than $2.2 million for lobbying and other political purposes. In all, the company paid these groups nearly $6.6 million in dues in 2009.

DATABASE: Search the complete Times survey of corporate transparency ratings

While some companies that don't disclose may not have contributed to trade groups, others simply defend their right to keep their giving out of the public eye.

"Information about our financial support for certain causes is proprietary," said Adam Shores, a spokesman for insurance giant Allstate.

That has prompted some investors to push companies to post annual reports where the public can view a comprehensive list of a corporation's political spending, including what it gives to trade groups. "We understand that company voices need to be heard," said Julie Gorte, senior vice president at mutual fund Pax World Management. "As shareholders, we think we have a right to know how the money is being spent."

But industry leaders ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup have fought such shareholder initiatives, arguing in corporate filings that they comply with existing laws and that disclosing more is "unnecessary."

Other companies say they present a complete picture of their political spending, while leaving off select contributions.

Goldman Sachs, for instance, says on its corporate website that it "does not make any political contributions in the United States." And Morgan Stanley reports that its only corporate political contribution in 2010 was a $500 check to the New York Senate Republican Campaign Committee Housekeeping Conference Account.

Nowhere on their websites do the two financial powerhouses say that they gave a combined $105,264 to a political action committee run by the California Public Securities Assn.

State campaign finance reports, which show the contributions, indicate that the trade group spent $400,000 on two 2010 ballot measure campaigns.

Quoting the company's 2010 proxy statement, Goldman spokesman David Wells said the company did not control how trade groups spend. "They take a wide variety of positions on a number of matters, not all of which are supported by us."

To conduct the review, the Times asked the nation's 75 largest publicly traded energy, healthcare and financial services companies to outline their reporting practices. The information was checked against corporate websites, financial filings and state and federal campaign finance reports.

Under current law, companies that donate directly to campaigns or political parties must report this giving to regulators.

Companies are not required to report giving to certain types of not-for-profit organizations, including trade associations and "social welfare" nonprofits organized under Section 501(c)4 of the tax code.

Trade groups may use members' dues or specifically earmarked corporate contributions to fund political activity.

This system ensures companies can participate in the political process without risking their reputations, said R. Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's chief lobbyist.

Citing retailer Target, which faced public protests for supporting an organization that backed a candidate opposed to gay rights, Josten said disclosing company donations would threaten free speech.

"When you have members that are outed in such a fashion and are harassed and intimidated and attacked and threatened, I think it is pretty clear," he said. "The attempt here is to have a chilling effect on our ability and our members' ability to engage in a debate."

But unless a company voluntarily provides information about all its giving, as Prudential does, citizens and shareholders cannot see the full extent of its political spending.

Health insurance giants UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint each post a list of contributions to state candidates and donations made by the companies' political action committees. Neither reports what they pay to America's Health Insurance Plans, however. The industry's Washington-based lobbying arm spent more than $130 million on lobbying and other political activity in 2009, including an $86 million campaign funded through the chamber that targeted healthcare legislation being debated on Capitol Hill.

Insurer Aetna, which does report its trade association dues, also would not disclose how much it contributed to that campaign, which the company describes as educational, not political.

Valero Energy Corp., a leading refiner, posts in a policy on its website that it "does not use corporate funds to make contributions to political candidates, political parties, political committees or other political entities organized and operating under Section 527" of the tax code.

But Valero did not disclose on its website $5.05 million in contributions to a committee organized to pass Proposition 23, an initiative to delay California greenhouse gas regulations. Valero spokesman Bill Day said the committee was incorporated as a 501(c)4 nonprofit, and therefore not covered by the company policy.

Contributions to ballot committees are treated as political contributions in California, however. They must be reported to the California Secretary of State, which Valero did.

With unregulated political spending expected to play an even larger role in next year's presidential campaign, many companies are coming under increasing scrutiny from shareholders and advocacy groups such as the Center for Political Accountability and the Sustainable Investments Institute.

Wells Fargo, Oppenheimer and other leading mutual funds have begun to support shareholder resolutions at major corporations to require disclosure of giving to trade associations and other groups.

Several companies, including CVS, Pacific Gas & Electric and Capital One Financial, have posted new information about their political giving since The Times began its review.

"Corporate America has classically been more inward-focused," said Michael G. Morris, chief executive of American Electric Power, which began posting its giving to trade groups in 2007. "We just believe telling the world is the best practice."