Some of the biggest corporations in the United States are moochers.
They're like the guy who shows up at your Labor Day picnic empty-handed. He drinks all your beer, eats four helpings of barbecue and leaves a huge mess for everyone else to clean up. Then he asks you for 20 bucks in gas money to get home.
A troubling number of U.S. corporations behave as moocher guests at our national cafeteria. They help themselves to all the taxpayer-funded goods and services we create and pay for together and leave patriotic small businesses and individual taxpayers with the bill.
According to a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies that I co-authored, 25 corporations among the top 100 firms paid their CEOs more in compensation than they paid in taxes. Twenty of them spent more on lobbying Congress than they paid in taxes.
Twenty of the 25 paid not one dime in federal taxes last year. Many use offshore tax havens to shift their profits overseas to avoid U.S. taxes. In fact, their hands are out, collecting millions in government subsidies.
This elite group of super-moochers includes Ford, eBay, Verizon, Boeing, Motorola, Honeywell, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Prudential Financial, Capital One Financial and International Paper.
These companies utilize roads, ports, Internet broadband, weather services — our entire public infrastructure. They spin off products created from a foundation of Uncle Sam's investments, such as the Internet, drug research and innovation in aviation and science. They hire educated workers from our school systems — and complain when they don't have adequate skills.
When someone tries to steal their product or idea, they rush to the U.S. court system and law enforcement agencies for help and justice. They rest assured knowing their global assets are protected by the U.S. military and government agencies.
They claim to love America. They just don't want to pay for its upkeep. At the end of the cafeteria line, with their tray piled with food, they point to you and me and say, "They're picking up the tab."
Think about it: Where would Honeywell be without government research and contracts? Where would Boeing be without the U.S. taxpayer, including a recent contract for $35 billion in new planes?
These companies imply they should be relieved from taxes since they are creating U.S. jobs. But as new studies show, many of these same global firms are shifting jobs overseas as fast as they can.
General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt advises President Barack Obama on how to create jobs in America. He was paid $15.3 million last year as his company paid no U.S. taxes and collected $3.3 billion in refunds. In the past three years, GE has closed more than a dozen U.S. factories and eliminated 19,000 American jobs. In the past decade, the percentage of GE's global work force based in the United States has declined from 54 percent to 46 percent.
Many companies avoid disclosing the breakdown of their work force between the United States and other countries. They don't want the public to know how aggressively they are outsourcing jobs. Once-patriotic U.S. firms now view the United States as a platform for shifting capital, jobs and profits around the world to their narrow advantage.
Our country is part of a dynamic global economy — and there are many benefits to our communities as a result. We benefit from global trade in goods, food and services.
Unfortunately, some our biggest U.S. corporations use the global economy as a shield to avoid basic responsibilities. For example, some use subsidiaries in tax-haven countries like the Cayman Islands and pretend their profits are earned offshore and their losses in the United States. These 25 companies together have more than 556 subsidiaries in tax haven countries.
We need a few respected CEOs to step up and say, "There's something wrong when a CEO is paid more than the entire amount of taxes a billion-dollar company pays."
We could really use some patriotic CEOs who understand that to have first-class infrastructure and education systems the businesses that benefit must pay their fair share. They can't complain about government waste and inefficiency — and shift their money offshore — leaving everyone else to pay.
An earlier generation of CEOs of these same companies would have been ashamed to personally be paid more than their company's entire U.S. tax bill. Today's CEOs get rewarded for dodging taxes and their national responsibility.
Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of "The Moral Measure of the Economy."
© 2011 Institute for Policy Studies