(Micah Young, Dvm)

Tax-dodging CEOs gave big to both parties

Highly-compensated leaders at companies that pay little in taxes have been extremely generous to politicians


Justin Elliott
September 2, 2011 8:43PM (UTC)

The Institute for Policy Studies has a new report out looking at 25 of the highest-paid CEOs in the country who took home more money than their companies paid in annual income taxes.

The tax avoidance going on here -- much of it ascribed to off-shoring corporate activity to tax havens -- is all enabled by politicians, so we were curious whether any of the CEOs on the list are major donors to the two political parties.

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A quick search of the campaign finance database reveals that, yes, they are. That doesn't mean there's necessarily a causal link between these CEOs' political contributions and the tax policies that allow their companies to pay little or nothing to Uncle Sam. But it is still worth noting as a measure of political clout.

Here's a sample of some of the biggest givers on the list of 25:

  • Audrey McClendon, CEO of natural gas giant Chesapeake Energy. Since 2008, he has doled out $158,600 in political donations to both parties, the majority going to the GOP. (Start from the early 1990s and the sum of his personal donations shoots up to $329,000). A sample: He gave $28,500 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2007, while at the same time giving the maximum ($2,300) to the campaigns of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. A few months ago, he gave another $10,000 to the GOP congressional campaign committee, and he has been extremely generous to the congressional delegation from Chesapeake's home state of Oklahoma.

    McClendon took in over $21 million in compensation last year, while the company paid no federal income taxes.

  • John Brock, CEO and chairman of Coca-Cola. Since 2008, Brock has personally given out $63,000 in donations, all of it to Republicans. His favorite targets of opportunity: the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and the senators from Coke's home state of Georgia, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss.

    Brock was paid $19 million last year while Coke paid just $8 million in income taxes.

  • John Strangfeld, CEO of Prudential Financial. Strangfeld has been a major donor in the last few years, with a total of $108,200 in political giving -- most of it to Democrats. He gave the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee $30,400 in 2009, and another $5,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2008. Other favorite recipients include Ron Kind, Democratic congressman from Wisconsin, and Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Both Kind and Dodd (now retired) were players on the financial services issues that Prudential cares about.

    Strangfeld was paid $16 million in 2010, and Prudential got a $722 million tax refund.

  • Gregory Q. Brown, CEO of Motorola Solutions. Brown has given out $67,000 in political donations sine 2008, with the vast majority going to Democrats. He maxed out to Barack Obama's presidential campaign, giving $4,600 in 2008, as well as another $28,500 to the Democratic National Committee that year. He has also been generous with other pols from Motorola's home state of Illinois, including Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Dick Durbin. His ties to Obama have been rewarded with several appointments to White House boards.

    Brown received nearly $14 million in compensation last year, while Motorola Solutions paid just $7 million in federal income taxes.

The rest of the report is certainly worth a look -- you can read it here, and some criticisms and discussion of  its methodology here.


Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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