[column width="47%" padding="6%"]For decades, small, locally-owned businesses have not only served as an economic engine for the entire country, producing most of its jobs, they produced together sufficient economic power to provide a moral force direct from Main Street America, that kept a needed check on corporate power in America.
Today, 70 million Americans-- 1 in 3 voters-- are owners or employees of small U.S. businesses.
Imagine an America where 70 million small business owners and employees plus the families they represent once again being a political and economic force in America, guiding it and determining its destiny. We believe that is precisely what America needs.
So why doesn't this huge, powerful political and economic force of 70 million Americans have political and economic power today? We believe it is the absence of shared stories and shared understanding and shared community.
Our dream at The Reader is to give this to these 70 million Americans as well as everyone else in the U.S., so that the moral force that once came directly from small businesses and the families they represent is once again the defining force in the American story and its destiny.
With this end in mind, we present some of the best non-profit, non-partisan investigative news organizations in this issue of Dangerous Unselfishness that can help begin this new era of shared stories, understanding and community.
Accountability Tools at The Center for Public Integrity
CONSIDER THE SOURCE
[SEARCH TOOL found at www.PublicIntegrity.org/politics/consider-source]
The 2012 election was the most expensive and least transparent presidential campaign of the modern era. This project seeks to ‘out’ shadowy political organizations that have flourished in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. As the nation prepares for major state-level elections in 2013 and critical midterms in 2014, it provides the narrative behind the flow of money and how professional politicking is influencing a flood of new spending.
Consider The Source is a "follow the money" type tool that allows you to track sources of funding by PAC, individual donor, non-profit organization and more.
STATE INTEGRITY INVESTIGATION
The State Integrity Investigation is an unprecedented, data-driven analysis of transparency and accountability in all 50 state governments. The Center for Public Integrity partnered with Global Integrity [www.GlobalIntegrity.org] and Public Radio International [www.PRI.org] to assign each state a letter grade — based on 300 government integrity indicators. No state received an A, and eight states failed. Some results:
In Georgia, more than 650 government employees accepted gifts from vendors doing business with the state in 2007 and 2008, clearly violating state ethics laws. The last time the state issued a penalty on a vendor was 1999.
A North Carolina legislator sponsored and voted on a bill to loosen regulations on billboard construction, even though he co-owned five billboards in the state. When the ethics commission reviewed the case, it found no conflict; after all, the panel reasoned, the legislation would benefit all billboard owners in the state— not just the lawmaker who pushed for the bill. [/column]
Tennessee established its ethics commission six years ago, but has yet to issue a single ethics penalty. It’s almost impossible to know whether the oversight is effectively working, because complaints are not made available to the public.
A West Virginia governor borrowed a car from his local dealership to take it for a “test drive.” He kept the car for four years, during which the dealership won millions in state contracts.
The investigation includes an interactive map of the 50 states and a Corruption Risk Report Card for every state which lists 14 specific measurements for corruption risk.
U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and Citizens for Tax Justice
[www.USpirg.org and www.ctj.org]
REPRESENTATION WITHOUT TAXATION
The U.S. Public Interest Group and Citizens for Tax Justice study identified 30 companies that paid more in lobbying than in federal taxes from 2008 to 2010. General Electric is near the top of the list, having paid an effective tax rate of -45.3% for the three-year period, while reporting a total of $84.4 million in lobbying expenses.
In 2010, General Electric reported $14.2 billion in global profits, $5.1 billion of that amount earned in the United States. The company’s tax payment that year? Zero.
280 profitable Fortune 500 companies collectively paid an effective federal income tax rate of 18.5 percent, about half of the statutory 35 percent corporate tax rate, while receiving $223 billion in tax subsidies.
These corporations include most of the Fortune 500 companies that were consistently profitable from 2008 through 2010. Collectively they paid $250.8 billion in federal income taxes on a total of $1,352.8 billion in U.S. profits. If they had paid the statutory 35 percent tax on their profits, they would have paid an extra $223 billion.
These 280 companies spent a total of $2 billion lobbying on tax and other issues between 2008 and 2010.
The most recent Gallup polls show that 67 percent of Americans believe that major corporations have too much power and 71 percent believe the same of lobbyists. Evidence that 29 corporations were able to exploit tax loopholes to pay less than nothing in federal income taxes, while at the same time lobbying Congress for more special treatment, backs up this suspicion.
With our country facing enormous budget challenges, our elected leaders should side with the public by closing corporate tax loopholes and eliminating the undue influence of corporate money from our elections to get to the root of the problem.
WAYS YOU CAN TAKE ACTION: Create a petition at www.change.org, or at www.whitehouse.gov/petitions. Talk about these issues in your living room with your friends and family. Simply breaking the silence is how change starts. But you have to break the silence!