After days of wall-to-wall media coverage of its grotesquely misleading, edited clip of USDA official Shirley Sherrod speaking about race, Andrew Breitbart’s blog Big Government is targeting Citizens for Tax Justice.
Breitbart’s bizarre and extraordinary claim is that CTJ, ACORN, The New York Times, the Center for American Progress and a group called Clean Energy Works (of which we were previously unaware) are colluding to deceive the public about tax policies affecting oil and gas companies.
Breitbart’s argument goes something like this. On July 3, the New York Times published an article saying that oil and gas companies get a whole lot of tax breaks. Then on July 9, CTJ published a report saying that oil and gas companies get a whole lot of tax breaks. Also on July 9, Clean Energy Works sent someone a strategy memo saying that the public needs to know that oil and gas companies get a whole lot of tax breaks.
As Breitbart sees it, surely this can be no coincidence! It doesn’t seem to occur to him that the tax breaks available for fossil fuel production have grown so outrageous — at a time when the world is concerned about carbon emissions and climate change — that hardly a week goes by without somebody somewhere criticizing them. Heck, even President George W. Bush criticized them.
To fill out the conspiracy a little more, Breitbart assumes that any organization that is associated with any of CTJ’s 21 board members, and any progressive organization with an employee cited in the New York Times article, is also involved in this coordinated plan to deceive the public.
Finally, Breitbart is simply wrong about the tax loopholes in question. He writes:
“The same day that Di Martino [of Clean Energy Works] released his memo, Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) released their own defective and dishonest hit piece, titled “What Oil and Gas Companies Extract from the American Public.” The tax breaks referred to by Di Martino and the CTJ memo, in reality, are the same credits that every American company receives for taxes paid overseas to foreign governments on income earned abroad.”
Wrong. The CTJ report titled What Oil and Gas Companies Extract—from the American Public discusses the top 5 tax loopholes enjoyed by oil and gas companies. These breaks are not “the same credits that every American company receives for taxes paid overseas to foreign governments,” which seems to refer to the foreign tax credit. One of the five loopholes our report criticizes allows oil and gas companies to take the foreign tax credit for what are really royalties (not taxes) paid to foreign governments.
The other four loopholes discussed in the report are not related to the foreign tax credit. They include the deduction for “intangible” costs of exploring and developing oil and gas sources, “percentage depletion” for oil and gas properties, Congress’s decision to redefine “manufacturing” so that oil and gas companies can receive a deduction for domestic manufacturing, and another break for writing off the costs of searching for oil.
Now it’s true that there are some huge problems with the international tax system generally and it’s true that we are more than happy to use the energy industry as an example of those problems, even though they are not confined to the energy industry. CTJ’s recent report on oil drilling and taxes uses the example of Transocean to illustrate the problems with corporate inversions, transfer pricing schemes, and payroll tax avoidance, since Transocean has exploited all three. But this report makes clear that Transocean is just one example of many types of companies that are abusing the rules in these ways.
And, to be fair (although it’s not clear why we should be fair to Andrew Breitbart) the New York Times article did discuss both problems — tax breaks that are specific to oil and gas companies and tax avoidance schemes that are not limited to any particular type of company. But that doesn’t change the fact that oil and gas companies are particularly adept at finding ways to get out of paying their fair share to maintain the society that makes their enormous profits possible.
Given Breitbart’s track record, we’re not particularly surprised that we're being attacked by the blog Big Government. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made."