Who Takes the Gold for Tax Avoidance in 2011?

This is tax time, or in the case of many big businesses, just another time without taxes. These companies deserve to be recognized. With the help of SEC data and the results of several excellent research studies, PayUpNow.org has selected the 'winners' of the 2011 Tax Avoidance Awards.

First a review of last year's results. The top spot went to General Electric, which made pre-tax profits of $44 billion from 2008 to 2010 but received almost $5 billion in refunds. A GE spokesperson added, "We are committed to acting with integrity in relation to our tax obligations."

A close second was Exxon, notable for having the nation's highest pre-tax earnings three years in a row, a 2% federal income tax payment rate, and hubris comparable to that of GE: "Any claim we don't pay taxes is absurd...ExxonMobil is a leading U.S. taxpayer."

There were numerous other candidates, each no less unworthy than the next. Verizon and Boeing and Dow and DuPont all made profits three years in a row, but all paid zero taxes over the three-year period. Banking leaders Citigroup and Bank of America, with a combined $8 billion of pretax earnings in 2009 and 2010, each paid zero taxes two years in a row. From 2008 to 2010, Chevron paid less than 5% a year. Merck paid 5%. Hewlett-Packard 3%. IBM 2%. Carnival 1%.

Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) recently noted other companies who were tax-free over the 2008-10 period, including Pepco Holdings, Computer Sciences, Consolidated Edison, Honeywell International, and Wells Fargo.

In the past year new information has surfaced about past and present nominees for the avoidance awards. According to one CTJ report, "From 2001 through 2010, GE's U.S. net federal cash income taxes paid appear to have been less than zero!" Another CTJ analysis concludes that the company paid 2.3% of its $81.2 billion U.S. pretax profits in federal income taxes over the last 10 years.

In 2011, GE paid a generous 5.1% of its total net income in U.S. federal taxes (11.3% of its reported US profit).

Joining the 10-year nonpayment club was Boeing, which from 2002 to 2011, according to CTJ, "has paid nothing in net federal income taxes, despite $32 billion in pretax U.S. profits." The huge aerospace company, which has two U.S. plants working overtime to fill contracts for 800 Dreamliner jets, claimed the largest percentage refund among the top tax avoiders in 2011.

Citigroup also claimed a refund, despite announcing a profit of almost $15 billion for the year.

Exxon paid its usual 2.1%, Chevron 4%. Verizon, IBM, and Dow each paid a little something. The data can be found at PayUpNow.

Now for the awards. Tax Avoidance Gold goes to Boeing for its long record of worsening tax avoidance and massive 2011 refund despite billions in Dreamliner contracts. The Silver Award defaults to GE, whose unparalleled history of tax avoidance kept it near the top. The Bronze Award goes to Citigroup for avoiding tax obligations on $15 billion of net income.

And all the nominees should be recognized for their skills in avoiding payment for the benefits derived from building up their companies in America.

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