Last Chance to Make Corporations Come Clean on Tax Havens

Isaiah J. Poole

People who want multi;national corporations to be held accountable for their tax-dodging tactics only have a few more hours Thursday to tell the Security and Exchange Commission to support a tough rule that would go a long way toward making that happen.

The SEC is soliciting comments until 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on a new business and financial disclosure rule that would require corporations to make public more information about their overseas subsidiaries.

This rule would affect the estimated $2.4 trillion in profits that corporations ranging from Apple to Walmart have shunted offshore in order to avoid paying U.S. corporate taxes. Right now, the rules for disclosing corporate use of offshore tax havens is, as the tax code itself, riddled with loopholes.

For one thing, companies are not required to report their tax liabilities on a country-by-country basis, so the public – including investors in these companies – have no way to accurately judge how a company is lowering its tax liabilities or what would happen if a country decides to radically change its tax policies. Nor do companies routinely report the names and locations of their subsidiaries; no one knew, for example, that Walmart had 78 subsidiaries in overseas tax havens, with $76 billion in assets, before researchers for Americans for Tax Fairness ferreted out the information.

Another Americans for Tax Fairness report found that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer was holding twice as much of its offshore profits in overseas subsidiaries as it was reporting to the public.

This lack of transparency does harm to investors – who should know details of how the companies they invest in are funneling their profits and the risks associated with their tax-avoidance strategies – and harms the public as a whole, which is shortchanged every time corporations game the system to avoid paying the taxes they owe.

That is why it’s important for people to take a few minutes now to tell the SEC to require corporations to tell the truth about their overseas subsidiaries. After all, expecting a corporation to be honest about how and where it earns its profits should not be too much to ask.

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