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Wednesday, December 12 , 2018, 1:50 pm | Fair 63º


Mark Shields: Renouncing American Citizenship — for Profit

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people with all the rights of flesh-and-bone citizens — beginning, of course, with the First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money in American election campaigns. But corporations, it turns out, do not have the same responsibilities as do their fellow citizens.

Corporations have all the rights and privileges of citizenship. Their copyrights, property and contracts are protected by American courts and law enforcement. The corporations' leaders, thanks to the work of the U.S. government, can confidently fly in safe skies, breathe clean air, enjoy national parks and, even more importantly, have their homes and their families defended and kept safe by the U.S. military.

And unlike the Marine privates or the hometown firefighters who put their lives on the line, an American corporation can legally — and outrageously — evade paying a single cent in U.S. taxes.

All that corporation has to do is renounce its American citizenship and, through a legalized bait-and-switch technique called corporate inversion, pretend to be bought by a company located in a country, such as Ireland, with a low corporate tax rate. The U.S. corporation's legal headquarters moves on paper, but the company continues to do business as usual in this country, where the nation's public sector will continue to protect and defend that corporate freeloader.

All the corporations' leaders and stockholders have to do is shamefully put profits over patriotism. Just over a half-century ago, a new American president pledged, on behalf of the nation he led, to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship." These expatriate corporations, which welcome all the benefits of American citizenship and abdicate all the responsibilities, have rewritten John Kennedy's words: We, the privileged and the powerful, will pay no price; we will bear no burden; we will meet no hardship.

This is not about whether U.S. corporate tax rates are higher. They are. But let it be understood that the effective tax rate paid by profitable U.S. corporations is not the 35 percent in the federal statute but instead 13 percent. The New York Times reported that tax avoidance has helped push "down the corporate share of the nation's tax receipts — from 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009."

Apologists for the runaway corporations that refuse to pay any part of their fair share to support America argue that the entire tax code should be overhauled. But that cannot be done in the next six weeks. Just because we cannot do everything does not mean we cannot do something. Who should pay more to cover the public costs the parasite companies stiffed us on? Doctors? Nurses? Cops? Teachers? Small-business women?

This ought to be a defining issue in the 2014 campaign. If a corporation willing to renounce its American citizenship for the equivalent of 30 pieces of silver while sponging off working American families does not outrage us, then our moral compass is broken. It's time to find out.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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