Last weekend, Americans around the country organized “Main Street Movement” protests to stand in solidarity with organized labor and demand that corporate interests pay their fair share. As ThinkProgress has reported, many of the nation’s largest corporate interests pay literally nothing in corporate income taxes. ExxonMobil made nearly $20 billion in profits in 2009, but paid nothing in corporate income taxes. Other extremely profitable companies GE, CitiGroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Boeing similarly have had entire quarters or years without paying corporate income taxes.
At the Tea Party summit last weekend, we spoke to former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), a prospective GOP presidential candidate, about corporate tax cheats. Asked about Bank of America, another wildly profitable American bank that paid nothing in corporate taxes in 2009, Pawlenty simply relied “Well actually the corporate tax rate in Minnesota and around the country is too high.” Reminded several times that Bank of America doesn’t pay it’s corporate taxes, regardless of rates, Pawlenty said that both exemptions and rates should be lowered. However, he again emphasized that he was not troubled, or even aware, of corporate tax dodging, and that corporate tax rates should be reduced:
FANG: Governor, today liberals are demonstrating all over the country in what CBS has called a liberal version of the Tea Party. Their main complaint is that a lot of corporations aren’t paying their fair share. For example, Bank of America, in 2009 paid nothing in corporate income taxes, same with ExxonMobil, GE, and a lot of other big corporations. Do you think corporations like Bank of America should pay their fair share? What are your thoughts on that?
PAWLENTY: Well actually the corporate tax rate in Minnesota and around the country is too high. And I think one thing we could and should do is–
FANG: You think zero is too high with Bank of America paying nothing?
PAWLENTY: We have the highest corporate tax rate, or one of them, in the world–
FANG: But they use loopholes and offshore bank accounts to pay nothing.
PAWLENTY: The things I’ve called for is reducing tax rates and looking at exemptions or special deals within the tax code that give certain companies privileges or benefits. I can’t speak individually to any country, company would get in that regard, but I think one goal or direction is to simplify and reduce tax rates and clean out as many of the special deals as possible.
FANG: To be clear, do you think Bank of America pays too much in taxes already?
PAWLENTY: I don’t know what Bank of America pays in taxes. I’ll just say, setting aside Bank of America, the corporate tax rate in America is too high compared to our competitor nations.
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Even Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), a Republican well to the right of Pawlenty on most issues, told us that corporate tax dodgers “broke the law.” As he prepares to run for president, Pawlenty has positioned himself close to the corporate right. Last year, we broke a story about how bailed out banks — still on the hook for taxpayer money — were funneling cash to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to kill financial reform. We asked Pawlenty if he had any problem with taxpayer-owned banks secretly lobbying against reforms for their industry. He didn’t.