Still Dazzled by the Facts and Figures

By: Alefiyah Ezzi, PHRGE Fellow at Oxfam America

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Photo credit: Jaclyn Sokol, CHANGE Logistics Coordinator, Oxfam America

My experience at Oxfam America over the past 11 weeks has been phenomenal. I gained knowledge about the corporate world and developed skills that I could not have within the walls of a classroom. I interned for the Private Sector Department which focuses on ways to harness the strengths and resources of the private sector to pro-poor ends.

Recently, Oxfam released a tax media brief which uncovers how the top 50 U.S. public companies avoid a big chunk of their fair share of taxes through tax havens. As a continuation of the research exposed in this media brief, one of my larger tasks was to conduct research on tax specific lobbying and political capture in the finance, real estate and insurance (FIRE) sector, the pharmaceutical sector, and oil and gas sector. These three sectors make up a big part of the U.S economy and, hence, all together they pay some of the highest amounts in taxes to Uncle Sam.

Having limited prior knowledge on how the U.S. tax system works, I was very enthusiastic and yet a little apprehensive about this task. However, this was my moment to step up and take the plunge. Little did I know how fascinating this topic was! This research had me hooked for at least 5 weeks.

Did you know?

  • The FIRE sector is the third highest spender on lobbying and has spent almost $7 billion on lobbying between 1998 and 2015.[1] The FIRE sector has also been the leading source of campaign contributions and ranks number one for contributing the highest amount of money during 2015-2016 election cycle – $426 million (at least 5 times more than the amount donated by the health care sector).[2]
  • During the 112th congress, for every $1 the oil and gas industry spent on campaign contributions and lobbying, it got back $103 in subsidies- a 10,200% return on political investment.[3]
  • Many companies within the pharmaceutical industry have exploited tax loopholes to avoid U.S. taxes. At least ten huge corporations in the pharmaceutical industry are culpable for corporate inversion.[4] Many pharmaceutical corporations stash away billions of dollars in offshore accounts.[5] These are the same corporations who actively lobby the federal government on issues related to corporate tax loopholes.[6]

Apart from the above, I also wrote a research piece on tax specific lobbying by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—the biggest Trade Association in the U.S. The facts and figures I came across were mind boggling. For example, since 1998, the Chamber has spent more than $1 billion dollars on lobbying – the first organization to cross that milestone.[7]

During the last few weeks on my co-op, my big task was to gather data on corporate contributions to the national conventions; this was also a potential extension to the corporate tax research.[8] I prepared a memorandum which outlined the scope of research and am currently putting together all the required data using different sources including grappling with company 10-K’s. I am pretty sure that by now I have developed a new sense of attention to detail.

All in all, my time at Oxfam America has been an enormous learning curve and as sad as I am about leaving, I am very excited about the next opportunities that will come my way.

[1] Top Spenders, Centre for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/lobby00/topspenders.php.

[2] Totals by Sector, Centre for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/overview/sectors.php.

[3] Fossil Fuel Funding to Congress: Industry influence in the U.S., Oil Change International, http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-industry-influence-in-the-u-s/.

[4] Tax Inversion, How U.S. Companies Buy Tax Breaks (Nov. 23, 2015), http://www.bloombergview.com/quicktake/tax-inversion.

[5] Citizens for Tax Justice, Shell Games 2015 (2015) The Use of Offshore Tax Havens by Fortune 500 Companies (2015), http://ctj.org/pdf/offshoreshell2015.pdf.

[6] Lobbying, Centre for Responsive Politics, www.opensecrets.org; Lobbying profiles of different pharmaceutical companies and the tax specific issues that they lobbied.

[7] Carrie Levine, The Chamber’s Bad Bet on the GOP (Mar. 30, 2015), http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/03/us-chamber-gop-congress-116493.

[8] In an effort to influence public policy, which includes tax reforms, large corporations donate significant amounts of money to the national conventions and as a result, corporations and their lobbyists enjoy a wide range of benefits including direct interaction with the lawmakers. Party Conventions Are Free-For-All for Influence Peddling, Public Citizen, http://www.citizen.org/documents/political-party-convention-funding-background-info.pdf.

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