No Tax Write-Offs For Wrongdoing

END WRITE OFFS FOR WRONGDOING

Paying for misdeeds shouldn’t be a tax write off. Unlike regular citizens and small businesses, large corporations accused of wrongdoing like oil spills and mortgage scams typically negotiate out-of-court settlements to resolve charges from government regulators. The company agrees to make a payment and the government agency agrees not to prosecute the alleged misdeed. Annually, billions of dollars are exchanged between corporations accused of crimes and government agencies attempting to hold them accountable.

These settlements shouldn’t just be another cost of doing business.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what these payments often end up being. 

Unless agencies specify otherwise, these corporations usually deduct the costs of out-of-court settlements on their taxes as ordinary business expenses, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab. 

Especially when Congress is struggling to reduce budget shortfalls, every dollar that corporate wrongdoers avoid paying by deducting a settlement must be made up for through higher tax rates for others, cuts to public programs, or an increase in the national debt.

The public often can’t even know when these settlement agreements come with a tax deduction because there are no standards for transparency. Government agencies aren’t required to publish the settlement agreements or publicly post the details, and corporations don’t disclose whether or not they deduct the payments from their taxes.

That’s how Bank of America, accused of consumer fraud that contributed to the financial crisis, can write off up to $11 billion of their recent settlement agreement and leave taxpayers to pick up the tab, with no one the wiser.

THERE IS A SOLUTION

We’re calling on Congress to pass bipartisan common-sense legislation to restrict write offs for wrongdoing. We are also supporting a bipartisan bill to make settlement agreements between government agencies and corporations more transparent, so that Americans can know the real value of the deals being signed on their behalf. In the meantime, we’re pushing agencies to update their settlement policies and deny tax deductions for corporate misbehavior. 

Issue updates

News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Tax

Government Agencies Allow Corporations to Write Off Billions in Federal Settlement Payments

A new study by United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (U.S. PIRG) analyzes which federal agencies allow companies to write off out-of-court settlements as tax deductions and which agencies are transparent about these deals. The study found that five of the largest government agencies that sign settlement agreements with corporations rarely specify the tax status of the resulting payments. Billions of dollars are allowed to be written off as cost of doing business tax deductions. Additionally, the report found that major government agencies do not consistently disclose the details of corporate settlement agreements.

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Report | US PIRG Education Fund | Tax

Settling for a Lack of Accountability?

When large companies harm the public through fraud, financial scams, chemical spills, dangerous products or other misdeeds, they almost never just pay a fine or penalty, as ordinary people would. Instead, these companies negotiate out-of-court settlements that resolve the charges in return for stipulated payments or promised remedies. These agreements, made on behalf of the American people, are not subject to any transparency standards and companies often write them off as tax deductions claimed as necessary and ordinary costs of doing business.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund and Citizens for Tax Justice | Tax

STUDY: 72% OF FORTUNE 500 COMPANIES USED TAX HAVENS IN 2014

Nearly three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies booked profits to tax havens in 2014, with just 30 companies accounting for 62 percent of earnings stashed offshore, according to “Offshore Shell Games,” released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Citizens For Tax Justice. Collectively, the companies reported booking $2.1 trillion offshore for tax purposes.

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News Release | US PIRG | Tax

Deepwater Horizon Settlement Comes with $5.35 Billion Tax Windfall

Today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice of a proposed $20.8 billion out-of-court settlement with BP to resolve charges related to the Gulf Oil spill allows the corporation to write off $15.3 billion of the total payment as an ordinary cost of doing business tax deduction. The majority of the settlement is comprised of tax deductible natural resource damages payments, restoration, and reimbursement to government, with just $5.5 billion explicitly labeled a non-tax-deductible Clean Water Act penalty. This proposed settlement would allow BP to claim an estimated $5.35 billion as a tax windfall, significantly decreasing the public value of the agreement, and nearly offsetting the cost of the non-deductible penalty.

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Report | U.S. PIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice | Tax

Offshore Shell Games 2015

U.S.-based multinational corporations are allowed to play by a different set of rules than small and domestic businesses or individuals when it comes to the tax code. Rather than paying their full share, many multinational corporations use accounting tricks to pretend for tax purposes that a substantial portion of their profits are generated in offshore tax havens, countries with minimal or no taxes where a company’s presence may be as little as a mailbox. Multinational corporations’ use of tax havens allows them to avoid an estimated $90 billion in federal income taxes each year.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Tax

Good News for Government Transparency

In a major victory for government transparency, states and local governments will be required to disclose the amount of revenue lost through programs that grant special tax breaks and abatements for economic development. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Tax

U.S. Senator Demands BP and Justice Dept Disclose Spill Settlement, Disallow Spill Tax Write Off

A U.S. Senator has told the Department of Justice to disclose its out-of-court settlement with BP that released the oil giant from charges for the Gulf oil spill and to make sure the settlement isn't allowed to be used as a tax write off.

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Media Hit | Tax

TV News Investigation About BP Settlement Based on USPIRG Report

WAFF TV News in Alabama investigated and confirmed U.S. PIRG findings that BP is poised to shift much of the cost of its $18.7 billion out-of-court settlement for the Gulf oil spill back onto consumers. The segment's statement from U.S. Senator Shelby unfortunately does not address the problem.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax

Subsidizing Bad Behavior

BP’s recent $4.5 billion legal settlement with the Justice Department for its misdeeds in the Gulf oil spill was historic for being the largest ever criminal settlement. But it was historic for another reason as well—none of it is allowed to be tax deductible. Unfortunately, too many settlements for wrongdoing end up as tax deductions.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax

What America Could Do With $150 Billion Lost to Offshore Tax Havens

Many corporations and wealthy individuals use offshore tax havens—countries with minimal or no taxes—to avoid paying $150 billion in U.S. taxes each year. By shielding their income from U.S. taxes, corporations and wealthy individuals shift the tax burden to ordinary Americans, who must pick up the tab in the form of cuts to public services, more debt, or higher taxes. The $150 billion lost annually to offshore tax havens is a lot of money, especially at a time of difficult budget choices. To put this sum in perspective, we present 16 potential ways that income could be used.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Tax

Rogues Gallery of Major Corporate Legal Settlements

The following list of recent major corporate settlements displays a harrowing array of harms to the public. After government agencies sought redress for corporate wrongdoing, they negotiated with the companies for payments that were presumably less than the agency would have ordered in damages or fines if it had chosen to go through with a protracted lawsuit.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Tax

Picking Up the Tab

Some U.S.-based multinational firms or individuals avoid paying U.S. taxes by transferring their earnings to tax haven countries with minimal or no taxes. These tax haven users benefit from their access to America’s markets, workforce, infrastructure and security; but they pay little or nothing for it—violating the basic fairness of the tax system and forcing other taxpayers to pick up the tab.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Democracy, Tax

Loopholes for Sale

A new report by U.S. PIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) found that thirty unusually aggressive tax dodging corporations have made campaign contributions to 524 (98 percent) sitting members of Congress, and disproportionately to the leadership of both parties and to key committee members. The report, Loopholes for Sale: Campaign Contributions by Corporate Tax Dodgers, examines campaign contributions made by a total of 280 profitable Fortune 500 companies in 2006, 2008, 2010 and to date in 2012.

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