Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Lilliputian Executives in Cayman Office Building

One five story building in The Cayman Islands houses 12,748 corporations. A Congressional delegation will visit the Ugland House to meet some of these tiny chief executives. That is, if they're really there.

The Senate continues its investigation into corporations using bogus offshore shells to shelter income from tax liability. One could call this a partisan attack by leftist Democrats on U.S. corporations, the bedrock of American values. Only, a Republican Congress investigated the problem, releasing their "Tax Haven Abuses: The Enablers, the Tools, and Secrecy" report in August 2006. Guess who takes up nearly 300 pages of the report? It would the Wyly brothers, the ninth largest donors to the Bush/Cheney camaign according to Susan Lisovich of CNN.

Assuming 12,748 tiny executives aren't found in the Ugland House, consider other examples of CEO cheating. Nearly one third of publicly traded executives cheated on their stock option compensation via backdating or worse. The same pattern was found in executive stock donations to charities. Those gifts coincidently gave CEO's the maximum tax deduction. While those two practices point to unethical individual behavior, the offshore tax dodge arises from the same unethical source. While the tax cheating benefit goes to the corporation, it can work its way through executive incentive compensation formulas.

As the individual consumer struggles to save a penny, U.S. corporations are flush with cash. The New York Times reported "One study shows that the average cash ratio doubled from 1998 to 2004 and the median ratio more than tripled, while debt levels fell." Did any of that come from stiffing Uncle Sam on his tax bill? And that would not be Uncle Sam Wyly...