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Corporations at Tax Time: Who's Good, Who's Bad, and Who's Very Ugly

It's tempting to blame government for our middle-income 15-20% tax rates. But the true culprits have documented their own guilt. Comprehensive financial reports called '10-Ks' are issued annually to the SEC by U.S. corporations. Amidst tedious pages of income, flow, and outgo, company accountants deftly balance management's desire to impress stockholders with the need to avoid self-incrimination.

PayUpNow.org has documented recent corporate tax activity from the 10-Ks. We took non-deferred federal tax payments over the past three years and analyzed the figures to determine which companies and industries consistently meet or avoid their obligations. The entire dataset is available on the PayUpNow.org website.

The GOOD seems to be in the health care industry, where Humana, Medco, Wellpoint, and United Health all paid taxes at rates close to the 35% corporate maximum over the past three years. Some nation-wide family favorites fared well, too. Home Depot, Walgreens, CVS, Kohl's, and Best Buy all approached the 35% rate three years running. Good places to shop.

Companies within specific industries were generally grouped together, as if they didn't want to fall far from the tree. In the middle of the pack were Costco, Walmart, and Target, all consistently paying in the mid-20% tax rate range. Even more noteworthy was the tech industry, which had several companies paying taxes at annual rates between 15 and 20 percent: Microsoft, Oracle, Dell, Google, Apple, Amazon, Cisco, and Comcast.

On to the BAD...Kraft Foods and Coca Cola paid less than 10% in taxes over the three-year period. Chevron paid 5%. Hewlett-Packard 3%. IBM 2%. Exxon 2%. Carnival 1%.

Can't get much worse, it seems. But it does. It gets UGLY.

Boeing and DuPont and Dow Chemical and Verizon all made profits three years in a row, but all received net refunds for the three-year period. The ugliest result comes from General Electric, which made pre-tax profits of $44 billion over three years but received almost $5 billion in refunds! So ugly, indeed, that the company buried its tax benefit (refund) strategy in a nondescript passage near the end of its 10-K.

The big picture:

The top 100 companies, with $5 trillion in 2010 revenue and $500 billion in pre-tax earnings, paid less than 10% last year in non-deferred federal taxes. If these 100 companies had paid the 35% tax designated by U.S. tax law, an additional $140 billion would have been collected in federal taxes in just one year. This is approximately equal to the total budget deficits for all 50 states.

Pay Up Now is committed to a focused national effort to refuse the business of the worst corporate tax offenders. We should not have to subsidize them with our own tax money.

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