This story is over 5 years old.


The Biggest Companies in America Are Being Handed $27 for Every $1 They Pay in Taxes

The top 50 companies in the US cost taxpayers an estimated $111 billion per year — a mass corporate tax evasion which comes at the expense of education, healthcare, and infrastructure.
A protest outside Bank of America in LA, on “Tax Day” in 2012. Photo by Michael Nelson/EPA

If you're a United States citizen who is pained by doing your taxes, April can be the cruelest month of the year. Maybe you dread deciphering the tax code or doing paperwork — or perhaps you're frustrated by the realization that you're subsidizing public services beyond your means while your city's infrastructure is falling apart.

These aren't things that some of the country's biggest corporations really need to worry about.


Oxfam America took a close look at the way large, profitable companies use offshore tax havens and other methods to slash their corporate tax rates in the US rather than pay taxes where the majority of their business takes place.

The report, "Broken at the Top," found that the 50 largest companies in the UShave $1.4 trillion hidden in tax havens while at the same time receiving trillions of dollars in tax payer-funded loans and subsidies. The tax practices of these corporate behemoths cost Americans an estimated $111 billion per year and cost developing countries another $100 billion a year.

Apple, the world's second-largest company, was the company with the greatest amount stored abroad — $181 billion in three subsidiaries. Next in Oxfam's league table was General Electric, with $119 billion stored in 118 tax haven subsidiaries, followed byMicrosoft which had $108 billion kept overseas.

According to a Pew Research Poll from 2013, only 6 percent of Americans think it is morally acceptable for people not to report all their income on their taxes, while 64 percent reported being very bothered by the idea that corporations weren't paying their fair share in federal taxes.

Related: The VICE News Guide to the Panama Papers

The impact of falling tax revenue goes beyond a question of ethics, however.

The US House of Representatives is currently considering a budget plan that would slash even more federal funding for food stamps by over $150 billion over the next decade, for example, taking food assistance benefits away from about three million of the country's poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Major cuts to public health funding have also left health departments ill equipped to deal with the growing threat posed by the Zika virus.


Budget cuts have led local governments to cut corners with their spending, which can cause infrastructure like roads and bridges to crumble and pose a threat to their citizens.

Oxfam's findings come in the wake of the Panama Papers leak, which revealed how the rich and powerful have used the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to establish offshore arrangements in order to avoid paying taxes in their own countries.

The organization estimates that $7.6 trillion is currently stashed in offshore tax havens. That's more than the German and British economies combined, and roughly a 10th of the total world GDP in 2014.

"As Americans rush to finalize tax returns, multinational corporations that benefit from trillions in taxpayer-funded support are dodging billions in taxes," Raymond C. Offenheiser, Oxfam America's president, said in a statement. "The vast sums large companies stash in tax havens should be fighting poverty and rebuilding America's infrastructure, not hidden offshore in Panama, Bahamas, or the Cayman Islands."

"When corporations don't pay their fair share of taxes, governments — rich and poor — are forced to cut services or make up the shortfall from working families and small businesses," he added. "Neither is acceptable."

Related: Panama Papers Highlight Britain's Role in Global Financial Corruption

The Oxfam report found that between 2008 and 2014, the 50 largest US companies — which include Disney, Walmart, American Express, Alphabet (Google), AT&T, Bank of America, Pepsi, and so on — collectively received $27 in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts for every $1 they coughed up in federal taxes. Between 2008 and 2014, they collectively received more than $11.2 trillion in tax-payer funded help.


In 2008, the world economy was hit with the biggest crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. US households lost on average nearly $5,800 in income due to reduced economic growth during the acute stage of the financial crisis, from September 2008 to the end of 2009.

The federal government shelled out about $2,050 for each household on average within that span to help mitigate the impact of the financial crisis. Meanwhile, according to the Oxfam report, America's biggest companies enjoyed the lion's share of US taxpayer funded support, receiving $11 trillion in federal loans, guarantees, and bailout assistance between 2008 and 2014.

In 1952, corporate income taxes contributed to 33 percent of the US federal budget. Today corporate income taxes cover just 9 percent of the budget.

But the era of rampant corporate tax evasion might be coming to an end. Bringing corporate profits back onshore has been an issue that has seen bipartisan support during the 2016 presidential campaign. Where the candidates differ is how exactly they should do that.

The current federal tax rate on corporate taxable income can be as high as 39 percent — the third-highest rate in the world. To lure corporations back to American shores, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump proposes lowering that tax rate to 15 percent. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both pledged to raise tax rates and close the loopholes that have made tax dodging possible.


Related: Why the Panama Papers Scandal Isn't Such a Scandal After All

On April 4, the Obama administration unveiled aggressive new rules to curb tax inversions — corporate mergers that are meant to relocate a company's tax exposure abroad.

The maneuver typically involves a US corporation buying a smaller company in a country with a lower income tax rate, and then shifting its headquarters to the foreign country. The new rules will dramatically shake up the world of corporate finance and have tax lawyers working for corporate firms scrambling to find other loopholes.

The new guidelines were credited with the collapse of the corporate merger of pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Allergan, which would have allowed Pfizer to avoid paying $35 billion in US taxes.

Obama called for international tax reform on the heels of the Panama Paper revelations.

"The problem is that a lot of this stuff is legal," he said.

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen

Related: Facebook Paid Less Tax in the UK Last Year Than the Average British Worker