Apple may be getting all the attention from lawmakers and the news media for its offshore tax practices, but a new report finds that other major companies are using similar tactics to avoid paying taxes on billions of dollars in profits.
At least 18 companies, including Nike, Microsoft and Apple, are stashing profits in offshore tax havens likely in a bid to avoid paying taxes, according to a new report from the Citizens for Tax Justice, a left-leaning research group. If the companies brought that money home, they would pay combined more than $92 billion in U.S. taxes, the report found.
“It’s misguided to say it’s some unique thing that Apple has created," said Matthew Gardner, the executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a research partner of CTJ. "A lot of big companies are very likely doing it.”
A Nike spokesperson declined to comment on the report. Microsoft and Apple didn’t immediately return messages from The Huffington Post seeking comment.
Apple came under fire last month after a Senate hearing revealed that the company paid just 2 percent in taxes on $74 billion in profits by housing its money in an Irish subsidiary that hadn’t declared its tax residency anywhere in the world. Apple CEO Tim Cook told lawmakers that the company pays “all the taxes we owe,” which, while technically true, offers an example of the larger issue of corporate tax avoidance that some lawmakers are targeting.
Companies like Apple are able to use loopholes to legally keep their money in other countries, and they don’t have to pay U.S. taxes on that money unless it comes back home. When a corporation brings money stashed abroad back to the U.S., it pays the difference between what was already paid in taxes to the country where the money was previously held and the top U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent.
The companies on CTJ’s list disclosed in their filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that if they brought their overseas profits back to the U.S. they would pay a tax rate above 30 percent, indicating that the countries where their money is currently housed have very low tax rates.
“When you see somebody estimated that we'd pay 30 percent or even 35 percent when we bring these profits back, that is an indirect admission that they’ve paid nothing,” Gardner said. “There’s a very small number of countries in which you can pay single digits in taxes on your profits -- and those countries have an awful lot of beach front.”
Gardner noted it's likely there are more companies than those on CTJ’s list that avoid taxes by keeping their profits in other countries. The SEC offers companies two options when disclosing their U.S. tax rate for profits housed overseas: They can either estimate what their rate would be if they brought the profits back, or they can claim that it’s too complicated to figure out, Gardner said.
The companies that made CTJ’s list are those that offered an estimate, but there are 235 other companies that told the SEC that they’re holding profits overseas but didn't disclose their hypothetical U.S. tax rate, according to the CTJ report. In total, these non-disclosing companies hold almost $1.3 trillion in non-repatriated profits abroad, CTJ found.
“In all likelihood the vast majority of these 235 companies could give you a good estimate of what they’d pay if these profits were brought back,” Gardner said. “The idea that they can’t just figure out what they’d pay if these profits were brought back is pretty laughable.”
Many of the companies discussed in CTJ’s report, including Apple, have pushed lawmakers to grant a holiday on taxes for corporate profits brought back home, or to move towards a territorial tax system that would allow companies to effectively pay no U.S. taxes on the income they earn abroad. Supporters of such proposals argue that adopting a simpler corporate tax code would make the U.S. a friendlier place to do business, while critics say the policies could cost America billions of dollars in tax revenue.
But Gardner said it’s difficult for lawmakers to assess those proposals when they don’t know how much companies are paying in taxes abroad.
“It’s asking an awful lot for Congress to evaluate these questions without having access to this basic information,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. Congress should have access to information that they currently don’t have access to.”