By Monique Perry Danziger
Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was an anti-corruption game-changer tucked into a historic, comprehensive piece of legislation aimed primarily at overhauling the nation’s financial regulatory structure. Since becoming law, anti-corruption and financial transparency proponents are still waiting for the law to be implemented.
Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act would require oil, gas, and mining companies that must report to the SEC—approximately 90 percent of the major internationally operating oil and gas companies in the world—to disclose payments made to governments for the oil, gas, and minerals they extract. This would be a boon to anti-corruption workers trying to get the records straight when investigating bribery and corruption in developing countries. It also would serve investors looking to make informed decisions about their portfolios.
Of course, 1504 attracted industrial vitriol from the usual suspects—companies used to doing business behind a cloak of secrecy were not thrilled at the prospect of having to open their ledgers. Industry concerns aside, the provision enjoyed strong bipartisan support from legislators, including Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN); Ben Cardin (D-MD); Patrick Leahy (D-VT); and Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA).
Earlier in the season, ending tax breaks for oil companies was proposed as a means of raising revenue against looming budget deficits. The proposal was expected to raise $12 billion by eliminating a domestic manufacturing tax deduction for big oil companies such as BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, and $6 billion by ending deductions for taxes paid to foreign governments. Proponents of the plan argued that oil companies are able to disguise foreign royalty payments as taxes, in order to reduce their tax liability.
Such disguises and obfuscations of operating payments, sales, profits and taxes owed and paid to foreign governments are a major part of the United States government’s tax collection problem.
This week, Sen. Carl Levin introduced his signature Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which seeks to take a bite out of the nation’s estimated $100 billion annual loss in uncollected tax revenue through offshore tax haven abuse. The bill includes new language that would require SEC-registered corporations to report on their employees, sales, purchases and financing arrangements on a country-by-country basis. The logic behind such measures being that greater transparency will enable both U.S. and foreign tax collection authorities to spot profit shifting shenanigans that companies engage in to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
In addition to 1504 and the Levin Bill measures, momentum on the financial transparency issue is growing: Hong Kong put its own version of 1504 into effect roughly this time last year, requiring any petroleum and mineral companies listing with the Hong Kong stock exchange for the first time to report significantly more details about operations including taxes, royalties and other payments made to governments on a country-by-country basis. The EU is working on its own version of a 1504-type bill.
It is increasingly obvious that letting multinational companies operate on an honor system is bad business. Instituting Section1504 and passing the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act would strengthen U.S. and foreign government tax collection, inform global investment strategies, and foster good governance in the developing world—a key component in a stable global economic recovery.
No more waiting. The SEC should issue a formal rule for implementation of 1504, as it is required to do under the Dodd Frank bill, and get the ball rolling.
Danziger is the Communications Director for Global Financial Integrity.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the American Forum. 7/11