The motto for those good Google guys out in Mountain View, CA. is “Don’t be evil,” but Bloomberg News today details how that pledge stops somewhere short of their tax returns. Bloomberg‘s Jesse Drucker explains how the world’s most successful Internet search engine manages to cut its tax rate on its massive overseas profits by a sleight of hand worthy of a Times Square Three-Card Monte dealer (Ok, they don’t have Three-Card Monte games in Times Square anymore, but they did. Just Google it.)
Team Google has improved on the card sharks, however, since the arrangement that lets it cut its taxes by $3.1 billion over the last three years is strictly legit, even if exceedingly greedy. The methods include a couple of schemes so favored by tax planners that they have names for them, just like those belly-busters at the Carnegie Deli.
One is the “Double Irish” where you set up a company in Ireland — just the way the Google gang did in a slithery silver tower in Dublin where it has a workforce of some 2,000 devoted locals — and peddle your global advertising from there. You then take the profits earned on overseas sales and route them to another Irish subsidiary located in Bermuda. As Drucker explains it:
“Tax planners call such an arrangement a Double Irish because it relies on two Irish companies. One pays royalties to use intellectual property, generating expenses that reduce Irish taxable income. The second collects the royalties in a tax haven like Bermuda, avoiding Irish taxes.”
There is also “the Dutch Sandwich” which, as one tax maven explains is the perfect corporate diet since it “leaves no tax behind to taste.” This maneuver calls for running the Dublin earnings through a Dutch entity — which magically manages to have no employees — before sending the dough down to sweet Bermuda.
Drucker also points out that these income shifting exercises display a certain ungratefulness on the Googlers’ part: After all, “the U.S. National Science Foundation funded the mid-1990s research at Stanford University that helped lead to Google’s creation.” Company co-founder Sergey Brin also had a nice taxpayer-paid scholarship while perfecting the perfect search engine.
Many other hugely successful companies engage in this kind of Double-Irish, Double-Dutching behavior. In May, Drucker reported that these “transfer pricing” shenanigans cost the U.S. an estimated $60 billion in lost revenue every year.
The Obama administration has vowed to tackle these less-than-patriotic schemes, although so far its legislation is stuck somewhere in some congressional backwater.
But this should be the kind of thing that gets Glenn Beck and his Tea Partiers frothing, so maybe after they elect us a new Congress next month it will quickly launch the much-needed crackdown.