The 10 Most Corrupt Tax Loopholes

If Mitt Romney won't tell you which ones need to be closed, we will

Actually, it already has been destroyed. Despite declaring $18 billion in profits in 2010, Apple paid just 17 percent in federal taxes. It socked away another $74 billion offshore and tax-free.

Who covers the difference when Apple pretends to be Irish? That would be you.

9. How to lower your taxes by sitting on your ass.

Back in the 1970s, "hard work" wasn't just something candidates yammered about during campaigns. It was actually imbedded in the tax code. Capital gains — investment income created by things like stock dividends — were taxed at a higher rate than wage income for a very simple reason.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took advantage of a multi-billion dollar tax scam during his company's IPO.
Guillaume Paumier/Creative Commons
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took advantage of a multi-billion dollar tax scam during his company's IPO.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is the poster child of off-shore tax schemes.
Austen Hufford/Creatives Commons
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is the poster child of off-shore tax schemes.

"The theory was that it was tougher to dig a ditch than to watch somebody do it," says Robert McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice.

Even Ronald Reagan knew that someone shouldn't pay less for sitting on his ass. He made the capital gains tax the same as the highest personal rate.

But heavy protection payments have since whittled that notion of "hard work" down to a toothpick. George W. Bush finally hacked it to its current low of just 15 percent.

Officially, the theory is that lowering capital gains taxes will spur investment, creating new companies, new jobs, and prosperity for all. But most economists have found it does little to spur savings and investment.

What it does do is deliver a fortune to investment bankers and financiers like Romney and Warren Buffett, both of whom pay lower rates than their secretaries.

Of the $100 billion this costs the government each year, nearly 40 percent goes to just the 400 highest income Americans.

Congressman Sander Levin (D-Michigan) has tried to shear this golden lamb by requiring those taking capital gains breaks to prove they actually invested. Yet Congressman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, has blocked the bill from ever coming up for a vote.

It's probably just coincidence that since Camp entered Congress in 1998, he's taken a whopping $631,916 from the financial industry. Camp did not respond to repeated interview requests.

8. The Sheryl Crow loophole.

It pays to have low friends in high places. Six years ago, legislators from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Texas wanted to reward those who provide the star power for their fundraisers: country musicians. So they passed a law allowing songwriters to avoid income taxes and sell their publishing catalogs at capital gains rates.

Suddenly, Nashville's elite could not only avoid the taxes everyone else must pay; they could also skirt their Social Security and Medicare bills.

Three years later, Sheryl Crow sold her publishing rights to one of Australia's largest banks for nearly $10 million. Her estimated savings courtesy of this congressional giveaway: $2 million.

The law, however, curiously omitted other creative types who weren't hosting congressmen's rallies. Authors, for example, still must pay standard income taxes for selling the copyrights to their books. The same goes for painters, photographers, screenwriters, and sculptors.

7. Getting rich, Facebook style.

Before Facebook offered its first publicly sold stock in May, CEO Mark Zuckerberg grabbed 120 shares for himself, then threw another 67 million shares to his employees.

It may have seemed an unusual act of generosity for a man not known for his grace. That's because it was also a multibillion-dollar tax scam.

The public paid $38 a share for Facebook stock in initial trading. Yet via a sweet little loophole created by Congress, Zuckerberg claimed the shares he gave employees were worth just six cents apiece. By law, Facebook was allowed to deduct the difference — over $7 billion — as a business expense.

In reality, the employee giveaway cost Facebook nothing. It neither expanded the company's expenses nor increased its liabilities. McIntyre compares it to an airline letting workers fly free in seats that would otherwise have been empty. The airlines don't receive a break because it doesn't cost them anything.

But thanks to some inventive paper shuffling, Facebook will receive a $500 million tax refund next year.

A similar loophole encourages companies to offer executives those bloated compensation packages.

When CEO wages began to spur outrage in the early Clinton years, Congress decided that companies could no longer deduct executive salaries over $1 million as a business expense.

But it also created a loophole that rendered its crackdown meaningless. Exempted were "performance-based" bonuses that surpass that $1 million threshold. A grand new corporate giveaway was born.

Suddenly, CEOs were being slathered with stock options. Companies expensed the giveaway without ever opening their wallets, leaving taxpayers to subsidize caviar compensation plans.

Last year, the five highest-paid CEOs collectively took home $232 million — while their companies received a tidy $81 million in tax breaks.

6. My other home's a yacht.

Established in 1913, the mortgage interest deduction is one of the oldest and most sacred breaks in the code. It's meant to encourage home ownership and stabilize communities.

It doesn't really work, since most people will buy homes whether they receive a break or not. Countries like Australia and Canada have similar ownership rates to ours without offering the deduction.

But at least congressmen back in 1913 occasionally tried to do something beneficial to the country. Today's Washington is more interested in exploiting such beneficence. Take the yacht deduction.

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2 comments
j_m_jae
j_m_jae

To all you French hating  xenophobes! It's outrageous how uneducated and short-sighted people can be. _Joe_ is right. Read his comment for a bit of education. BTW, I am NOT french.

_Joe_
_Joe_

Does no one ever remember that the US would never have gained it's independence without the help of the French?  Or that nearly every special forces unit in every major army in the world is modeled after the French?  Or that throughout all of history, they've kept up a resistance movement during EVERY occupation?  Not many countries can say that.

 

Even one of America's most widely known symbols, The Statue of Liberty, was a gift from France.

 

Please consider this before disparaging the French armed forces.  Choosing not to grab guns and charge headlong into every war that comes along is NOT the same as fearing to do so.

 
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