My guest today is Paul Buchheit, founder of PayUpNow.org. Welcome to OpEdNews, Paul. Please tell our readers what it is and what it does.
Thank you, Joan. Pay Up Now is an online effort by members of US Uncut Chicago to promote boycotts of corporations that pay little or no federal income tax. We investigate financial documents and data from other reliable sources to tell the facts about tax avoidance and other forms of irresponsibility among Fortune 500 firms.
What a great idea, Paul! Corporate tax slackers are pretty unpopular these days. How long has Pay Up Now been in business?
PayUpNow.org is a volunteer grass-roots effort which has only been in existence for a couple of months. The response has been very encouraging for us, and it seems to confirm, as you suggest, that average Americans are tired of subsidizing corporations who use American research, infrastructure, and national security without paying for it.
Give us an example of what you've found out so far, please.
Verizon or US Cellular -- which one paid their taxes?
PayUpNow.org is evaluating the 10-Ks (financial summaries submitted by corporations to the SEC) and other documents to determine the tax avoidance levels of Fortune 500 companies, especially those familiar to American consumers. One of our objectives is to make recommendations to shoppers about purchase options that favor tax-responsible corporations.
Evaluating 10-Ks is not an easy task. Variations, amendments, and financial jargon abound amidst the everpresent hint of accounting legerdemain. With due care we took revenues and pre-tax incomes for five years, and chose current federal tax payments to the exclusion of deferred and foreign and state taxes over the same period. We organized the results by industry in order to identify relative tax avoiders in specific consumer areas.
Results in these industries stood out:
-- Beverage: Coca Cola paid a much smaller percentage (6.5%) than Pepsi (13.6%). Both were significantly below the maximum statutory rate of 35%.
-- Computers: Hewlett-Packard (2.9%) and IBM (3.3%) both paid much less than the industry average of about 20%.
-- Finance: Citigroup, with revenues of almost $400 billion, claimed an overall 5-year loss and received a $5 billion refund. PNC and Wells Fargo both paid about 9%, much less than the other major banks.
-- Telecommunications: Verizon (8.8%) paid a much smaller percentage than AT&T (22.1%). The little guy, US Cellular, paid the most (almost 35%).
In other industries, one or two companies stood out, above or below the pack:
-- Cable TV: Dish Network (14.5%) and DirecTV (16.6%) paid less than Comcast (22.5%).
-- Petroleum: Exxon (3.6%) and Chevron (5.6%) paid much less than Marathon (12%), and much less than Phillips (17.1%).
-- In fast food, KFC/PizzaHut/TacoBell paid the least at 10%, a little worse than McDonalds at 14%. Burger King (19%) was near the middle. Starbucks paid 33%.
-- In processed food, Heinz (5.1%) paid the least, General Mills the most (25.7%).
-- For office supplies, Office Max and Office Depot both lost money. Staples was profitable and paid a 25% tax.
-- For insurance, Geico (22.2%) and Allstate (26%) paid mid-level taxes, while Progressive paid 35%.
Interestingly, tech firms and retail stores were closely grouped in federal tax payment percentages, as if adapting to similar accounting protocols. Amazon, Intel, Cisco, Dell, Microsoft, and Google were all between 19-25%, with Apple falling a little farther from the three at 16.3%. Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, JC Penney, Best Buy, and Kohl's were all between 24-32%.
Work continues on PayUpNow.org investigations, as new data is weighed, and as feedback helps to eliminate errors and discrepancies. We will also be reviewing statistics on executive compensation and job outsourcing.
Our ultimate goal is to realize product boycotts of the worst offenders. Hitting them in their 10-Ks will remind tax dodgers that their use of American research and infrastructure and transportation and security should be paid for through their taxes.
Fascinating. Now, I understand why it's slow going; you have a lot of homework to do in order to do this right. And I love mindful consumerism. You mentioned US Uncut Chicago before, Paul. What is it and how does it tie in to Pay Up Now?
US Uncut rejects the claim that cuts in education, health care, environment, etc. are needed to balance the budget. Simply eliminating the tax cuts for the richest 1% would pay almost all the state budget deficits. Eliminating tax havens and tax loopholes would cover those deficits many times over.
PayUpNow is an initiative by US Uncut Chicago members to promote awareness of these facts, and to generate interest in boycotting the products of the worst corporate offenders.
Got it. Have you always been an activist?
No. Up until five years ago, I was a tech guy. I noticed that my son and daughter, both in high school, knew very little about current affairs, so I thought I'd teach them. Then I discovered I KNEW VERY LITTLE MYSELF. So I began reading, studying, researching -- and the more I learned, the more determined I became to advocate for change in our country.
I'd like to know more, Paul. How did you figure out where to jump in with your new-found advocacy?
I focused at first on the half-century of American intervention around the world, and collaborated with other peace advocates on the book American Wars: Illusions and Realities (Clarity Press). Over time, I came to believe that the roots of our hegemonic attitude exist right here at home, in the form of a "manifest destiny" that has prevailed for 200 years. We take what we want in this country. With 5% of the world's population, we consume 25% of its resources. Greed or entitlement, whatever it may be called, has, in my opinion, led us into war and economic woes and an unprecedented degree of inequality. PayUpNow is dedicated to fighting back against the tiny elitist group that controls American wealth and power.
Trying to teach your kids about current affairs yielded a nice and unexpected bonus: a community of like-minded individuals. Are you optimistic about our chances of fighting corporate greed and winning or is it more symbolic, a matter of principle?
I must admit I'm not very optimistic, as greed at the top has persisted since ancient times. But there have been moments in history, most recently the civil rights movement, when people rose up to achieve something significant. That could be happening now with US Uncut.
A very recent [April 27] Supreme Court decision that gives corporations the ability to force consumers or employees to use arbitration rather than class-action lawsuits is certainly a bad sign for anyone other than big corporations. Anything you'd like to add that we haven't touched on yet?
The Supreme Court (at least 5/9 of it) has bought into the supply-side, trickle-down economic theories that simply haven't worked in the past 30 years. They believe in the free market, they believe in the minimizing of government. But they are apparently not viewing the world from the standpoint of a struggling middle-class American.
As a fellow struggling middle-class American, I thank you for talking with me. Good luck with Pay Up Now. It's a great idea whose time has come!