(Park City, Utah) — “We’re Not Broke,” a lively documentary about the ways that wealthy individuals and global corporations dodge taxes, had its world premiere on Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival.
The timing couldn’t have been more extraordinary. Just two days earlier, the Associated Press reported that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has up to $32 million in offshore bank accounts, mostly in the Cayman Islands. Two days after the film’s debut, Romney bowed to mounting pressure and released his damning 2010 and 2011 tax returns, and President Barack Obama called for a new mandatory 30 percent tax rate on Americans earning $1 million or more each year.
Directed by Karin Hayes and Victoria Bruce, “We’re Not Broke” visually and expertly explains how “offshore “banking enables the richest 1 percent and several thousand transnational corporations to avoid regulation, taxes, and accountability.
Unlike other documentaries about corporate abuses, “We’re Not Broke” inspires viewers to see themselves as agents of change. The film stands out in is its portrayal of ordinary people learning about the offshore system and taking action. It profiles the emergence of US Uncut, and follows how its activists engage in direct action at Bank of America, Verizon, Apple, and other tax dodgers.
There are an estimated 60 tax havens — formally called “secrecy jurisdictions” — around the globe. The countries have loose incorporation rules, bank reporting standards, and financial transparency requirements. People in the U.S. are more aware of Caribbean tax havens such the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and the Bahamas. But technology and pharmacy companies often create subsidiaries in countries like Ireland and the Netherlands to hold patents and intellectual property to reduce their U.S. tax bills.
The offshore system has spawned a gigantic tax avoidance industry, with teams of lawyers and accountants who add nothing to the efficiency of markets or products. In 2011, reports about General Electric’s storied tax dodging dramatized the ways that modern multinationals view their tax accounting departments as profit centers.
At a time when federal and state lawmakers are grappling with huge budget deficits, the impact of corporate tax dodging is getting new attention. Tax havens are costing us more than an estimated $100 billion of lost revenue each year. And a coalition of over 20 U.S. companies have launched their “WIN America” campaign to lobby for a “tax holiday” on $1.2 trillion in overseas profits they want to bring back to the U.S. without paying the back taxes they owe.
“We’re Not Broke” portrays the “business case” for closing down the off shore system with profiles of several small business people who are at a competitive disadvantage with global corporate tax dodgers.
The documentary will probably figure into the election debate, given how Obama used his State of the Union address to highlight the tax system’s deep inequities in the. If Mitt Romney nails the GOP nomination, the abuses of the offshore system will draw plenty of attention.
Romney’s spokespeople argued the candidate was pursuing normal tax reduction schemes. But the offshore system is a rigged game, benefiting a small handful in the 1 percent of wealth holders and a few thousand global corporations. “It may be legal, but these are loopholes that show problems in our tax code,” said Nicole Tichon, executive director of Tax Justice Network USA, an organization that promotes tax transparency. “The bottom line is, they’re taking advantage of a system that’s flawed.”
Chuck Collins, co-author of the Institute for Policy Studies report, America Loses: Corporations that Take Tax Holidays Slash Jobs, is a featured expert in “We’re Not Broke.” www.ips-dc.org