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Price of Zero

A new report from the progressive advocacy group Public Citizen reveals that the 55 corporations that paid no federal corporate income tax in 2020 spent nearly $450 million on lobbying and campaign contributions over the last three election cycles. (Photo: Public Citizen/Twitter)

55 US Corporations Paying No Federal Tax Last Year Spent $450 Million on Political Lobbying and Campaigns: Report

"The lobbying, campaign contributions, and tax avoidance by these 55 companies is a never-ending cycle in which the companies spend to win tax breaks, then use the money saved from those breaks to try to get more."

Brett Wilkins

The 55 U.S. corporations that paid no federal corporate income tax last year have spent a combined $450 million on political campaign contributions and lobbying—including for lower taxes—according to a report published Wednesday by the progressive advocacy group Public Citizen.

"Using Uncle Sam's money to lobby against paying taxes is the perfect embodiment of how Washington works." —Mike Tanglis, Public Citizen

The report, entitled The Price of Zero, cites figures from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy showing that at least 55 U.S. corporations avoided paying any corporate income tax in 2020 on a combined pretax income of $40.5 billion.

"Had these companies paid a tax rate of 21%—the current federal rate—they would have owed the federal government $8.5 billion," the report notes. "Not only did these companies not pay taxes, but nearly all also got money back from the government, receiving $3.5 billion in tax rebates, bringing the total 2020 tax giveaways for these 55 companies to $12 billion."

Instead of paying taxes, the companies invested a combined $408 million in lobbying and $42 million in campaign contributions over the past three election cycles, according to data obtained from the Center for Responsive Politics.

According to the report, FedEx spent the most of any of the 55 companies—$71 million on lobbying and campaign contributions—between 2015 and 2020. Charter Communications ($64 million), American Electric Power ($42 million), Duke Energy ($37 million), and Textron ($22 million) round out the top five spenders.

Forty-seven of the 55 companies analyzed in the paper reported spending on lobbying at some point during the five-year period. Thirty-five of those firms acknowledged lobbying specifically on taxation issues. Twenty-two of the companies lobbied for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), Republican legislation signed into law by former President Donald Trump.

The TCJA lowered the federal corporate income tax rate from 35% to 21%, enabled companies to write off certain capital investments for five years, and made it easier for U.S. corporations to avoid paying taxes on foreign income. Dubbed the "GOP tax scam" by opponents, the TCJA gave more than 80% of tax cuts to the nation's richest 1% while raising taxes on over 90 million middle-class families and encouraging the outsourcing of U.S.-based jobs.

"It's critical that the public understand that while paying nothing to support the upkeep of our government, these companies have been spending huge amounts of money to try to keep the game rigged in their favor." —Susan Harley, Public Citizen

Most of the 55 companies analyzed in the report have political action committees (PACs) they use to fund campaigns of candidates, elected officials, party groups, and outside organizations. Fourteen of the 55 companies spent more than $1 million each on such contributions. From the 2016 through the 2020 election cycles, the firms that spent the most on political contributions are: Charter Communications ($6.5 million), FedEx ($5.5 million), Duke Energy ($3.4 million), FirstEnergy ($3.3 million), and Textron ($1.7 million).

Although the leading beneficiary of the companies' largesse is a Democrat—Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, at $408,500—20 of the 25 top recipients are Republicans, all of whom voted for the TCJA.

"The lobbying, campaign contributions, and tax avoidance by these 55 companies is a never-ending cycle in which the companies spend to win tax breaks, then use the money saved from those breaks to try to get more," the report concludes. "The corporations keep winning while the American public loses."

Public Citizen research director and report author Mike Tanglis said in a statement that "using Uncle Sam's money to lobby against paying taxes is the perfect embodiment of how Washington works."

Susan Harley, managing director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division and co-editor of the report, said: "As Congress looks to pair incredibly important investments in jobs and families with tax changes to raise revenues, it is essential that, as part of that work, it addresses the loopholes that have allowed companies to pay nothing in federal corporate tax."

"In the meantime," she added, "it's critical that the public understand that while paying nothing to support the upkeep of our government, these companies have been spending huge amounts of money to try to keep the game rigged in their favor."


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