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The Corporation Led by Obama’s “Jobs and Competitiveness” Chairman

In March, activists called on Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, to step down from his position as chairman of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness following revelations that GE had a negative corporate income tax rate over the past several years.

The New York Times had just reported that the nearly 1,000-person tax department of GE managed to achieve a negative corporate income tax rate over a 5-year period, partly by lobbying Congress for more tax loopholes. The article included all sorts of details that were damaging for GE. For example, it explained how the director of GE’s tax department literally “dropped to his knees” in the House Ways and Means office as he begged for — and won — the extension of a tax cut for financing through offshore subsidiaries.

A couple months earlier, President Obama had appointed Immelt chairman of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which is to give “advice to the President on continuing to strengthen the Nation’s economy and ensure the competitiveness of the United States.” After the Times article was published, former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold launched a petition calling on Immelt to resign from his position as chairman of the council.

GE’s tax avoidance entered the spotlight again in July, when Immelt endorsed a proposed repatriation amnesty. This proposal would call off almost all U.S. taxes on profits that U.S. corporations are currently holding offshore. These profits are normally subject to the difference between the U.S. corporate income tax and whatever foreign corporate income taxes were already paid (if the U.S. tax is greater) when the profits are brought back to the U.S. A recent report from a Senate investigations committee headed by Carl Levin (D-MI) found that a lot of these profits are stashed away in offshore tax havens where the corporations are likely to be doing no real business.