The founder of US Uncut is ready to take the movement to the next level. Carl Gibson tells me he wants to help shape a simple piece of legislation to end overseas tax havens. Of course, his would not be the first attempt made at such an endeavor. In 2008, Carl Levin crafted the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, legislation then-Senator Obama threw his support behind, and which has, like most bills that make sense, been floating in purgatory ever since.
Reportedly, Senator Levin’s chief investigator, Bob Roach, will present updates on the status of STHA during a session called “US Congressional Offshore Initiatives" at the 9th Annual OffshoreAlert Conference in—why not?—South Beach, Florida April 4-6.
But in the meantime, Gibson, working in concert with the Roosevelt Institute’s Cornell chapter, is drafting a streamlined version of an anti–tax haven bill focusing on a clear message. “Mainly, that we’re losing out on upwards of $100 billion every year in lost revenue because of corporate tax dodging and overseas tax havens,” he says.
He hopes to have the bill ready by Tax Day [April 18 this year]. “This will be legislation that makes it illegal for corporations to move income earned within the United States offshore through corporate tax loopholes, so it would close loopholes and it would also force these companies who already have billions overseas to bring that money back to the United States and pay taxes on it.”
I bring up the UK’s attempt at a "super law" to close all tax loopholes. The General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR) would ban the exploitation of any tax loophole, legislation that would be quite the stick in the craw for teams of corporate lawyers charged with the full-time endeavor of scouring laws to help big businesses avoid paying their fair share in taxes. The UK government is still considering the rule, complete with a provision that might guarantee non-prosecution for full disclosure. It’s unclear how aggressive the final law would be, considering the UK government estimates it would generate about £1 billion in extra revenue each year, yet Tax Research UK reports that corporate tax-dodging bleeds £16 billion (PDF) per annum from the country.
I ask Gibson if he’s considered adding such a general loophole ban to his legislation. “That would be ideal,” he says, “especially Bank of America, who has 115 oversees subsidiaries. They’ve got more money and lawyers than God. Those guys are really good at what they do, so I’m sure they can probably find future loopholes.”
He’s under no illusions that this will be a smooth journey. “I know that legislation changing the tax code is never going to be passed through easily, but I think if you narrow it down to a narrower focus where it only affects multibillion-dollar, faceless corporations who are clearly evading taxes, I think that could be something that—if not something both parties can agree on—certainly one party will find very, very hard to fight.”
He hopes to partner with Senator Levin, or Senator Bernie Sanders in the future to help give the legislation some momentum. “Of course, I’ll reach out to my senators here in Mississippi, Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran. They’re always talking about ways to save money, and I think this would be a great solution that all of us could agree on. I’m going to reach out to both parties. We’ll see what happens.”
In addition to the excitement over the bill, Gibson is giddy about US Uncut’s national day of action on Saturday. He tells me about the group’s plans for protests, which include dressing up as Verizon employees and ambushing customers with facts about the company’s tax-dodging practices, and Gibson dressing in a suit and tie and presenting himself to the store’s managers as a representative of the Citizens Revenue Service. “I noticed that Verizon hasn’t paid taxes on $2.4 billion in income for the past few years,” he’ll say, “so I’m just here to collect that tax.”
As the manager figures out what to do with him, the other Mississippi activists, dressed as Verizon employees—complete with nametags—will interact with customers. “We’ll walk up and say, ‘Hi, can I help you?’ If a customer asks us about a phone or something, we’ll say, ‘We’ll get to that, but by the way, did you know if we paid taxes then we wouldn’t have to cut your Pell Grants or job training?’”
The conversation turns to the Verizon-Vodafone connection. The reason Verizon is able to successfully dodge paying its taxes is because the company redirects its profits to its foreign wireless partner, Vodafone, which is itself an enormous tax-dodger. As such, Verizon is a key target for US Uncut, while Vodafone is UK Uncut’s objective.
“What I’m going to do before Saturday is get up with the UK Uncut people again, probably have a few chat sessions…and pick their brains about what worked [during the protests], and mention that we’ll be targeting Verizon if they want to target Vodafone,” he says, emphasizing his admiration for the original Uncut protesters. “I’m always looking forward to working with them. They really know what’s up.”
Gibson stresses that the Uncut movement is now a global endeavor. “We’re acting in accordance with UK Uncut, France, Switzerland, Sudan, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Mexico, Australia, Uncut chapters all over the globe.”
Carl laughs at my incredulousness. “Yeah! There’s a Sudan Uncut, believe it or not.” He tells me they even have a Twitter account (@sudanuncut).
Clearly, regardless of nationality, the issue of tax-dodging unifies citizens who bear the brunt of corporate exploitation.