Background and History

Our Mission

Citizens for Tax Justice, founded in 1979, is a 501(c)(4) public interest research and advocacy organization focusing on federal, state and local tax policies and their impact upon our nation. CTJ’s mission is to give ordinary people a greater voice in the development of tax laws. Against the armies of special interest lobbyists for corporations and the wealthy, CTJ fights for:

  • Tax fairness for middle and low-income families
  • Requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share
  • Closing corporate tax loopholes
  • Adequately funding important government services
  • Reducing the federal debt
  • Taxation that minimizes distortion of economic markets

Our Recent Work and Accomplishments

CTJ fulfills its mission primarily by producing research on tax issues and analyses of legislative proposals.  CTJ works closely with lawmakers and with allied organizations in support of fairness and simplicity in tax policy. CTJ experts meet with members of Congress and their staffs and testify before legislative committees to explain the effects of tax policies on all Americans, up and down the income scale.

Senator Carl Levin of Michigan called this work “indispensible” and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has praised CTJ for being “on the side of the typical working person, the person without the lobbyist” in the debate over tax fairness.

CTJ’s work is regularly cited in every form of news media and our experts are frequently asked to comment on policy developments. CTJ appears in major national print outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, on wire services such as Bloomberg and Reuters and in state and regional outlets including those run by the Gannett, McClatchy and Tribune companies. CTJ experts and research are often heard on public and commercial radio and seen in broadcast and cable television news. CTJ is also highly visible in online news outlets, from business sites like Quartz to the more generalist Huffington Post and Slate. CTJ’s news coverage is here.

Working with a growing network of labor, community, and religious groups from every part of the country, CTJ’s goal is to make taxes a better deal for middle- and low-income American families.

In the past few years, CTJ has provided lawmakers, reporters and the public with information on every critical tax issue, including:

The taxes avoided by huge, profitable corporations.
CTJ explains how well-known companies like
General Electric, Boeing, Facebook, and many others, avoid taxes, and the type of loophole-closing reforms that will raise revenue from corporate tax avoiders and prevent their use of offshore tax havens.

Policy options to raise revenue and reform the tax code.
CTJ presents lawmakers with
proposals to raise revenue by closing loopholes in  federal personal and corporate income tax laws, and in social insurance taxes in order to enhance fairness and fund public investments that might otherwise be subject to cuts.

The impacts on taxpayers, at different income levels and in every state, of various proposals to extend tax breaks.
This includes proposals to extend those tax breaks first enacted during the
George W. Bush administration as well as those more recently enacted during the Obama administration. CTJ analyzed each iteration of proposals that were debated until most of the tax cuts were made permanent in the “fiscal cliff” deal.

Data showing that Americans at all income levels are paying taxes, and the tax system as a whole is not particularly progressive.
CTJ’s
figures have been cited thousands of times in response to the myth that almost half of Americans pay no taxes, particularly in debates over the 47 percent that erupted in election year 2012. CTJ has also provided data showing that special breaks allow many multi-millionaires to have lower tax rates than middle-income Americans, just as Warren Buffett has said. 

Proposals from lawmakers and from political candidates to overhaul the tax system.
CTJ analyzes the effects of major tax overhauls that are proposed as part of Congressional
budget plans or platforms of presidential candidates, or as stand-alone legislative proposals

Proposals meant to stimulate job creation or pay for spending programs that stimulate job creation.
CTJ makes the case that tax cuts are never the best way to help the economy, and some tax proposal are even
less effective than others. CTJ also analyzes proposals to raise revenue to fund public investments that boost job creation.

History

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan had an epiphany. His Treasury Secretary informed him that Reagan’s former employer, General Electric, and dozens of other major American corporations did not “pay a penny in taxes to the United States government.” In fact, the Treasury Secretary added, “your secretary paid more federal taxes last year than all of those giant companies put together.”

That information, not to mention the exact phrasing, came straight from Citizens for Tax Justice. Upon hearing it, Reagan ordered his Treasury Secretary to “go full steam ahead” with what became the Tax Reform Act of 1986. That law repudiated Reagan’s earlier loophole-crazed tax policies and swept away most of the tax-shelter schemes and loopholes that cluttered the tax code.

CTJ’s studies on corporate tax avoidance, including 130 Reasons Why We Need Tax Reform (1986), Corporate Taxpayers & Corporate Freeloaders (1985) and Money for Nothing: The Failure of Corporate Tax Incentives, 1981-1984 (1986) have been widely cited for their key role in the enactment of this tax reform legislation in 1986. Indeed, The Washington Post called CTJ’s reports a “key turning point” in the tax reform debate that “had the effect of touching a spark to kindling” and “helped to raise public ire against corporate tax evaders.” The Wall Street Journal said that CTJ “helped propel the tax-overhaul effort,” and the Associated Press reported that CTJ’s studies “assured that something would be done… to make profitable companies pay their share.” And in the wake of CTJ’s agenda-setting role in the 1986 tax reform debate, the Washington Monthly ranked CTJ at the top of its list of America’s “best public interest groups.”

In 1991, CTJ’s Inequality and the Federal Budget Deficit examined the linkage between tax cuts for the wealthy and the mounting federal deficit. This attention helped set the stage for President Clinton’s 1993 budget act, which took back some of the tax cuts previously granted to the wealthiest Americans by the supply-side tax plan of 1981. In the mid-1990s, CTJ demonstrated to lawmakers and the public that the tax cuts pushed by Newt Gingrich and his allies were both unaffordable and hugely tilted toward the rich.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, CTJ’s work showed that the Bush tax cuts were even more unfair and unaffordable. With both the Treasury Department and the Joint Committee on Taxation refusing to publish data showing the estimated distribution of Bush’s proposed cuts, CTJ’s analyses were the primary source of information on which Congress, the media, and the public relied. The New York Times described CTJ as having “no doubt ... exerted more influence on the tax debate this year than any lobbyist in town.” In a similar vein, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota said “I don’t know what we’d do without CTJ. The agencies of government that are supposed to provide this information don’t, and the only way we can get it is from CTJ.”

Former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri recently applauded CTJ for being committed to “what’s fair for ordinary Americans who don’t have much of a voice in our country and in our capitol, certainly on tax matters, which are usually esoteric, complicated issues that nobody quite understands.”