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Start With Red Corporate Faces On the Golf Course

Should you ever find yourself in the unique situation of being out on a golf course alongside some big time CEOs of major corporations, here’s a fun experiment to try. It’s very simple — just ask the CEOs for their opinion on welfare. Many CEOs — who typically make thousands of dollars an hour — might spout the old “stand on your own two feet instead of relying on government assistance” rhetoric. Should that be the case, you should point out that there are hundreds of programs in existence that directly or indirectly provide billions of dollars of taxpayer money to corporations. The left calls this corporate welfare, the right calls it crony capitalism, but the sentiment is the same.

“Well, my company doesn’t do that,” a CEO or two might protest.

Oftentimes, that denial might be enough to end the conversation. Some information about these subsidies is available to the public… but it is often buried away in dense reports and not easily obtainable, which of course makes it far easier for these corporations and their top executives to squirm away from the uncomfortable truth about how much money they take from American taxpayers.

Here’s something that might make our golf course experiment a little more interesting.

The Subsidy Tracker (subsidytracker.org) is a webtool designed by the nonprofit organization Good Jobs First. An ongoing work-in-progress since 2010, the Subsidy Tracker compiles information on grants, special tax credits, loans, loan guarantees, and bailouts into an easily usable online search engine by company name. The most recent update adds information on federal subsidies, in addition to state and local government subsidy data.

Subsidy Tracker now features data on 441,000 payments from 704 programs across the country. More data is being added regularly. The easy availability of this data means no more hiding inconvenient information for corporations on the dole.

To conclude our little hypothetical experiment, you can use your smartphone to search for those CEO’s companies on the Subsidy Tracker and present to them the hard facts about how much they take from American taxpayers…and see how it affects the rest of their golf score.

In addition to the updated Subsidy Tracker, Good Jobs First has released a new report called Uncle Sam’s Favorite Corporations: Identifying the Large Companies that Dominate Federal Subsidies. This report covers the latest revealing data about federal government subsidies to named big corporations―such as the fact that two-thirds of $68 billion in subsidies and tax credits have gone to big corporations over the past 15 years.

The report states:

“Six parent companies have received $1 billion or more in federal grants and allocated tax credits (those awarded to specific companies) since 2000; 21 have received $500 million or more; and 98 have received $100 million or more. A group of 582 large companies account for 67 percent of the $68 billion total.”

Bigtime freeloaders!

Energy companies are some of the biggest recipients of grants and tax credits. Spanish energy company Iberdrola received $2.2 billion. NextEra Energy, NRG Energy, Southern Company, Summit Power and SCS Energy all received more than $1 billion.

As for government bailouts, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase have all received hundreds of billions of dollars in guarantees of their toxic paper. (All of these banks, notably, have had to pay large fines in recent years for misconduct despite being rescued by American taxpayers.) Corporate welfare kings!

Household corporate names like Boeing, General Electric, General Motors and Ford are also prominent on the subsidy lists, receiving substantial amounts of both federal, state and local funds.

If the idea of these companies receiving so much of your taxpayer money isn’t enough to get you steamed, consider this: Some recipients of these subsidies are benefiting while also avoiding paying taxes. Enter Uncle Sam the sucker!

The report states:

“Federal subsidies have gone to several companies that have reincorporated abroad to avoid U.S. taxes. For example, power equipment producer Eaton (reincorporated in Ireland but actually based in Ohio) has received $32 million in grants and allocated tax credits as well as $7 million in loans and loan guarantees from the Export-Import Bank and other agencies. Oilfield services company Ensco (reincorporated in Britain but really based in Texas) has received $1 billion in support from the Export-Import Bank.”

Check out subsidytracker.org for yourself and see how companies are taking advantage of these government subsidies. You might be surprised by the number of corporations that are on corporate welfare. Some may freeload where you live and work.

It’s time for a serious public rebellion to curtail welfare spending on giant, profitable corporations who use our public services and infrastructure, ship American jobs to dictatorial regimes overseas and even brazenly avoid paying their share of taxes to Uncle Sam. This is a clear left/right convergence issue that has been muddied by corporatist rhetoric about free markets and self-reliant capitalism for far too long.

For more on this topic, listen to my 20-minute, agitating conversation with Philip Mattera of Good Jobs First, the courageous creator of the Subsidy Tracker and co-author of the “Uncle Sam’s Favorite Corporations report.”

Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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