Monday, October 28, 2013
Washington Post, Marty Sullivan Figured Out How the World’s Biggest Companies Avoided Billions in Taxes. Here’s How He Wants to Stop Them:
It was a humbling experience for the chief executive of the world’s most valuable company. Hauled before a Senate panel, Apple’s Tim Cook had to explain how an American company whose American engineers had created the iPhone and the iPad was able to avoid paying any taxes on billions of dollars in profits generated by those products — not to United States, not to any country. The only defense the Cook could conjure up for Apple “stateless” income was that it was all perfectly legal.
A few miles away in Arlington, a 55-year-old economist named Marty Sullivan sat on a folding metal chair at a card table in the garage of his modest brick home and watched the hearing unfold on his laptop computer. Sullivan is one of those unheralded members of the permanent Washington establishment who make things work, at least when the politicians let them. And for two decades, from the same home office, Sullivan has been exposing the tax-dodging schemes of multinational corporations in the columns of Tax Notes, a must-read publication for tax lawyers, accountants and policy wonks.
It was Sullivan who shined an early light on how companies had finagled “transfer prices” — the price one division charges another for parts or services — to shift profits to low-tax jurisdictions.
It was Sullivan who had called out the big drug and tech companies for transferring ownership of their patents and trademarks — the source of much of their profits — to subsidiaries in Ireland and other low-tax jurisdictions.
It was Sullivan who highlighted the absurdity of tax havens in which just a handful of multinationals claimed to earn annual profits that were several times the country’s entire GDP.
And it was Sullivan who in 2010 pieced together from public filings that Apple had understated its reported profits to hide the fact that it was paying a tax rate of less than 2 percent on its overseas profits, shining the spotlight on Apple’s tax avoidance schemes.
(Hat Tip: Joseph Burke, Bob Kamman.)