Corporate America's Tax Scheme: 'Lobby More, Pay Less'

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Corporate America's Tax Scheme: 'Lobby More, Pay Less'

Top eight companies that spent the most on federal lobbying saw greatest drop in tax rates

A recent report released by the Sunlight Foundation found that of the 200 wealthiest U.S. companies, those who spent the most on lobbying in Washington saw the greatest reduction in reported tax rates between 2007 and 2010.

The top eight biggest spenders of the group between 2007 and 2009 saw the most unanimous tax benefits between 2007 and 2010, showing how money buys extreme tax leniency, with financial gains well into the billions.

"If you think you wound up paying too much in taxes this year, maybe you ought to hire a lobbyist. Or two. Or 20. After all, it's a strategy that seems to be working well for some of the nation's biggest corporations," the foundation states.

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Sunlight Foundation: Lobby more, pay less in taxes

Combined, the Big Eight spent $540 million on lobbying between 2007 and 2009. In total, they filed 332 lobbying reports that mentioned taxes, naming 491 different tax bills over the three-year period we investigated. [...]

Compared to what their taxes would have been if their 2007 tax rates were applied to their 2010 income, we estimate that these eight companies saved a combined $11.2 billion on $120 billion in reported 2010 profits. If we assume that the entire reduction was due to their lobbying, the return on investment would be 2,069%. Of course, this is probably not the case. Without a detailed analysis of these companies' taxes, it would be impossible to tell why their rates fell. But we can observe that it is very unlikely that the eight companies that lobbied the most between 2007 and 2009 all would have seen such significant drops in their tax rates by random chance alone. [...]

Taking the 200 companies as a whole, we estimate that for each additional $1 million that companies spent lobbying between 2007 and 2009, their 2010 tax rate fell by 7/100ths of a percent. While that might not sound like much, for a $2.5 billion company at the median in our sample of large companies, each $1 million spent on lobbying translates into an estimated annual tax savings of $1.8 million - almost double the original investment, with benefits likely to continue in the future. [...]

When it comes to paying less in taxes, having an army of lobbyists appears to be helpful. Many companies lobby on taxes, but those who spend the most report the largest and most consistent declines in tax rates.

Table 1. Changes in reported tax rates:

Company2007-2010 decline2007 rate2010 rate2007- 2009 lobbying (in millions)Estimated tax reduction (in millions)
Exxon Mobil-1.1%41.8%40.7%$81.92-$565.32
Verizon Communications-7.9%27.4%19.4%$77.58-$1,005.51
General Electric-7.6%15.0%7.4%$73.17-$1,082.70
Northrop Grumman-11.4%32.9%21.5%$57.56-$296.08
Median among 200 companies-0.6%31.8%31.6%$5.48-$13.08

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Huffington Post: Corporations That Spent The Most On Lobbying Saw Tax Rates Decline: Report

The report notes that these top eight firms spent $540 million on lobbying from 2007 to 2009. They filed 332 lobbying reports that mentioned taxes and named 491 different tax bills in those reports.

The top eight companies that spent the most on lobbying were Exxon Mobil, Verizon Communications, General Electric, AT&T, Altria, Amgen, Northrop Grumman and Boeing. Exxon Mobil spent the most, some $81.92 million from 2007 to 2009.

AT&T recorded the largest tax reduction, with its tax rate falling from 34.0 percent to negative 6.4 percent from 2007 to 2010, or an estimated reduction of more than $7.3 billion. Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, had the smallest decline from 2007 to 2010, with its rate declining from 28.9 percent to 27.4 percent. Six of the top eight companies saw declines of at least 7 percentage points.

The report comes as both President Barack Obama and Republican Party's presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney, have proposed lowering corporate tax rates. Obama has proposed lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent but eliminating loopholes and deductions. American manufacturers would get a bigger tax cut, having an effective rate of no more than 25 percent.

Romney has proposed cutting the corporate tax rate to 25 percent and repealing the corporate alternative minimum tax.

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