Corporations 'Citizens'? Then Act Like It

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Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Corporations 'Citizens'? Then Act Like It

(Photo: flickr / cc / Occupy Reno)

The U.S. Supreme Court this week once again bestowed citizenship on American corporations.

A few years back, with the Citizens United decision, the high court declared corporations were essentially people and therefore had First Amendment rights to pump any amount of money they want into election campaigns. Now in the so-called Hobby Lobby case, it declared that corporations could have religious rights as well, and therefore don't have to include contraceptives in their health insurance plans if the principal owners' faith opposes it.

So while the nation's high court is on a roll granting corporations personhood, it would be nice if the corporations themselves started acting like good citizens and, for example, paid their taxes like everyone else does.

The latest American corporation that is considering moving its headquarters overseas so it can pay lower taxes on its profits is none other than drugstore giant Walgreens. It would be the latest in a line of U.S. companies that don't like to pay their fair share of taxes even though they owe much of their success to government programs and infrastructure that were provided by other American taxpayers over the years.

One of the most galling examples of corporate tax avoidance scheming is the giant Caterpillar Corp. of Peoria, Ill. While Caterpillar hasn't moved its headquarters out of the country — at least not yet — it has managed to run most of its profits through a Swiss subsidiary, saving the company $2.4 billion in American taxes.

Here's a corporation that builds machinery for the nation's road builders, all of whom are paid with good, old American tax dollars. And let's not forget the government contracts Caterpillar has with the military for construction and engineering projects.

Walgreens is also a beneficiary of huge amounts of taxpayer dollars. It's estimated that nearly a quarter of its $72 billion in sales last year came from Medicaid and Medicare. 

The Chicago Tribune reported recently that the drugstore chain is considering a so-called corporate tax inversion, in which an American corporation can incorporate abroad by acquiring a foreign company. In Walgreens' case it's the huge Swiss drugstore chain called Alliance Boots. One tax analyst projected that the maneuver would cost the U.S. treasury $2.35 billion during the first three years. That's $2.35 billion that individual American taxpayers would have to make up.

Unlike some of the other corporations that have quietly moved their headquarters out of the country, Walgreens is causing a stir in the Chicago area, where its headquarters is located in suburban Deerfield.

"It is unconscionable that Walgreen is considering this tax dodge — especially in light of the billions of dollars it receives from U.S taxpayers every year," said Nell Geiser, associated director of Change to Win Retail Initiatives. "Walgreen should show its commitment to our communities and our country by staying an American company."

Yes — and by being a good citizen like the Supreme Court claims it is.

Dave Zweifel

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.