Profits trump patriotism. That is how Kate Barton, a tax partner at Ernst & Young explains the stampede of American companies rushing to incorporate in Bermuda while retaining all the benefits of their U.S. locations and evading millions in corporate tax payments to the U.S. Treasury.
Thanks to David Cay Johnston of the New York Times, we learn that for a few thousand dollars in a paper transaction, a U.S. drilling company like Cooper Industries of Houston (which bills itself as "a responsible corporate citizen," because, "we believe giving back is good business") will reduce its tax bill by 40 percent or $54 million. Kate Barton told the Times that companies conclude that increased profits are "powerful enough that maybe the patriotism issue has to take a back seat to that."
Let us be clear: These fictitious Bermuda companies continue to enjoy all the benefits of U.S. citizenship. They and their property are protected by the American legal system. Their contracts are enforced by American courts. Because of the U.S. Government they have chosen to stiff, they breathe clean air and drink clean water, drive on safe highways, and they and their families are kept safe by the world's best military.
To call these capitalist expatriates "freeloaders" is too kind. They are corporate parasites, too many of whom after Sept. 11 in order to make a quick book, wrapped themselves and their products in Old Glory in a loathsome display of crass and cheesy opportunism.
That's right, the United States is at war. Tonight, thousands of brave young Americans live in harm's way. And what does the White House of our commander in chief have to say to these American companies whose chieftains scheme to escape paying even one dime toward the modest salaries of those warriors who defend their families? "The White House has said nothing about these moves and their effect on tax revenues," reports David Johnston.
Apparently, the Bush crowd is so worshipful of lower taxation that some moral paralysis prevents any criticism of even a screw-your-neighbor-do-it-yourself "tax cut." Does not the systematic abuse of hardworking Americans who obey the laws, pay their taxes, and who would never consider bartering their citizenship for a few lousy bucks outrage anybody in George W.'s inner or outer circle?
At least one Republican, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley is angry. He is determined to stop what he calls this "corporate expatriation scheme." With moral clarity, Grassley states: "If there's one thing I can't stand it's a tax cheat." Adding, "When one person or company fails to pay their share of taxes it falls on everybody else to pick up the slack."
Forty years ago, a young president reminded the world that "to assure the survival and the success of liberty," he and his countrymen "will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship." Today, the word from the White House, sadly free of moral outrage for profitable corporate parasites, is to defend this nation, "You will pay no price, bear no burden and meet no hardship."
Mark Shields is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.