Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

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This week the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing entitled “The U.S. Tax Code: Love It, Leave It, or Reform It!” where the focus was on the corporate tax maneuver called inversions.

Inversions occur when corporations purposely renounce their American citizenship, usually by merging with a foreign corporation and reincorporating in a low- or no-tax country (also called a tax haven) in order to be treated as a foreign corporation and escape U.S. tax liabilities. However, in reality, the move is just on paper — these corporations can in fact be owned by up to 79 percent of the former shareholders of the U.S. company and keep their business operations here in America.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), chairman of the Finance Committee, referred to tax inefficiencies and loopholes like inversions as “chronic diseases,” “infections” and “contagions” since they are eroding the U.S. tax base and allowing these multinational corporations to escape paying their fair share of government services. The exact words of Sen. Wyden were: “The inversion virus now seems to be multiplying every few days.”

There has definitely been a growing rash of attempted inversion deals. The largest inversion deal to date, the drug maker AbbVie (formerly Abbott Laboratories) recently agreed to purchase a European competitor, Shire, with the goal of reincorporating in Britain. Other health-related companies have announced plans to invert such as Medtronic, Pfizer and Mylan.

Even “America’s drugstore” – Walgreens — may soon be a Swiss company, as it is in the process of determining whether to reincorporate there. This decision is particularly virulent since Walgreens receives around a quarter of its income from taxpayer supported health programs like Medicare and Medicaid. (The full list of companies that have inverted can be found here, which is much broader than the recent spate of health-related defections.)

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by Emily Peterson-Cassin

As the Senate Rules Committee meets today to discuss transparency in elections, there’s a valuable asset in the fight against secret money that won’t be on the agenda: an IRS rulemaking that could change the definition for political activity by nonprofits and put a speed limit on dark money spending.

Nonprofits registered under tax code sections 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) have been spending millions attempting to sway voters, particularly after the Supreme Court’s devastating decision in Citizens United that allowed corporations to spend unlimited money to influence elections. These political operatives avoid disclosing their donors, and their influence is growing. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, three times more dark money spending has taken place in 2014 than at this point during 2012. This is notable since 2012 was a presidential campaign year and political spending is generally lower in midterm election years.

The IRS’s current, vague standard for what counts as political activity is like a traffic sign that says “go whatever speed you want.”

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Last week, we hosted an online conversation with Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, and Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

Robert and Lisa discussed the progress we’ve made together so far — and the next steps we need to take — on some of the most pressing issues facing the country.

Miss the webinar? Catch up by watching the video below:

(Note: Unfortunately because of network issues beyond our control, you can’t see Robert or Lisa for most of the presentation. But the audio is there, and the analysis and insights they provide are inspiring and thought-provoking).

Some of our highest priorities include ending corporate money’s domination of our elections, fighting for universal health care, reining in Big Bank recklessness and stopping congressional attacks on consumer protection.

Members of Congress — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike — must hear from We the People that these issues matter to us.

We’re going on the offensive this summer, and we need your help.

To make sure you’re invited to our live online discussion in July, sign up today.

Rick Claypool is the online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t want American government to be run by the American people. Year after year, the Chamber is by far the biggest lobbyist in Washington, and this year looks to be no different. The first quarter’s lobbying disclosure reports just came in, and the Chamber together with its Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) spent $25.2 million between the months of January, February and March.

That’s $8.4 million on lobbying per month.

$280,000 per day.

$11,666 per hour (if lobbying 24 hours a day).

The Chamber has spent over $1 billion on lobbying since 1998 – more than the next three biggest lobbyists combined over that time.

Why does this matter? Big companies do a lot of lobbying on their own, but the Chamber allows them to do more lobbying anonymously. They can get all of the political capital without risking any of the consumer backlash that would come with attaching their names to their political lobbying activities.

A glance at the Chamber’s first quarter lobbying report shows it lobbies on such things as genetically modified organisms, the Clean Water Act, Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the “Coal Jobs Protection Act of 2013,” fracking and the Affordable Care Act.

The Chamber isn’t required to disclose its contributors (so it doesn’t), but we analyzed the size of its received contributions and found that just 64 donations made up more than half of the money it raised in 2012.

Big donors lobbying together on a massive scale, behind a veil of secrecy, telling the government what to do about our food, our water, our financial system, our employment laws, huge trade agreements, the fate of our climate, our access to health care and so much more.

As The New York Times wrote, “The next time a lawmaker or a corporate executive tries to persuade you that Washington is an even playing field, responsive to the concerns of all constituents, feel free to point them to the quarterly lobbying report of the United States Chamber of Commerce.”

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Bartlett Naylor co-authored this blog post with Amit Narang.

After two years of studying the proposed Volcker Rule, with 20,000 comments from bankers and the public, hundreds of meetings with Wall Street lobbyists, and 18 months past the rule’s congressionally mandated deadline for enactment, we’re now being told by the American Action Forum (AAF) — a self-described “center right policy institute” — that this was a rush job.

The Volcker Rule figures as a hallmark in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. It prohibits proprietary trading — gambling — by federally insured financial institutions.

The Volcker rule is about the worst example AAF could have come up with of a so-called rushed rulemaking. The simple and demonstrable truth is that our current regulatory process is far too slow and unwieldy to work effectively for the American public, and the Volcker Rule is the case in point.

Financial agencies missed deadline after deadline as they crafted the Volcker rule. Part of the delay was that they faced an unprecedented lobbying barrage from Wall Street to weaken the rule with loopholes or block it completely. So it is pretty incredible to see AAF try to re-write history and trick the public into believing that the regulators rushed this rule. AAF can distort the record and cherry-pick facts, but it doesn’t change the fact that, although the public and our economy are both far better off with the Volcker rule now in place, it took far too long.

The AAF adds that a new “administration” study reveals “annual” costs could approach $4.3 billion, proof that the regulators didn’t appreciate the ramifications of what they approved.

That $4.3 billion “annual” cost detailed in the administration study largely stems from the high end of losses the biggest banks might suffer shedding some of their high-risk assets, largely hedge funds. It is, in fact, a one-time cost, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) estimates the cost in a range of $0 to $3.6 billion. The high end of the compliance estimate makes up the balance of the $4.3 billion.

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