Update (below): 'The Yes Men' take credit for stunt
Through the use of legal tax shelters and benefits, General Electric (GE), the largest corporation in the world, was on track to pay approximately nothing in U.S. taxes on more than $14.2 billion in profits last year.
Facing public outcry over this revelation, the company has decided to take an unprecedented route, pledging to donate its entire $3.2 billion tax return to the U.S. Treasury.
Or rather, that's what the Associated Press was reporting Wednesday morning.
Turns out, it's not true -- and the whole embarrassment could have been avoided with a phone call.
"All seven of our foreign tax havens are entirely legal," a fake media advisory, published to a website not affiliated with GE, claimed CEO Jeffrey Immelt had said. "But Americans have made it clear that they deplore laws that enable tax avoidance.
"While we owe it to our shareholders to use every legal loophole to maximize returns – we also owe something to the American people. We didn't write the laws that let us legally avoid paying taxes. Congress did. But we benefit from those laws, and now we'd like to share those benefits."
The fake release added that GE's move should serve as an "example" for other U.S. corporations.
It also that GE would "conduct a nation-wide survey" to determine how the $3.2 billion should be spent, singling They specifically singled out recent budget cuts issued by Congress, with the release suggesting Americans should discuss which of the budget cuts they'd like to see reversed.
Immelt has of late been under intense rhetorical fire after President Barack Obama selected him to lead the U.S. Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. He'd previously served on the president's economic recovery advisory board.
"Jeff's somebody who brings a wealth of experience to the table," Obama said of the CEO. "We think GE has something to teach businesses all across America."
"Someone like Immelt, who has helped his company evade taxes on its huge profits -- and is now looking to workers to take major pay cuts after his compensation was doubled -- should not lead the administration’s effort to create jobs," former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) said late last month. "We shouldn’t reward wealthy CEOs and Wall Street for behavior that undermines the nation’s economy."
It was not clear who was behind the hoax, but the tactic seemed to mirror prior stunts pulled by activist/theater troupe "The Yes Men," who create fake websites and stage events to impersonate corporate spokespeople in hopes of fooling mainstream media. They say their stunts are aimed at encouraging major corporations to do the right things.
Update: 'The Yes Men' take credit for stunt
Andrew Boyd, member of "The Yes Men," tells news wire service Reuters that they were responsible for the hoax.
"This is unpatriotic, it's undemocratic, it's unfair," Boyd reportedly said, regarding GE's use of tax shelters. "It might be legal but it's immoral."
A GE spokesperson confirmed that the company did not receive a tax refund this year.
In 2009, "The Yes Men" released "The Yes Men Fix the World," a feature-length film detailing their exploits.