General Electric paid $2.67 billion, not zero, in 2010 income taxes

David Martosko Executive Editor
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Contrary to multiple news reports in 2011 that fingered General Electric as an income tax dodger during 2010, a GE representative told The Daily Caller the company did in fact pay more than $1 billion in U.S. taxes that year. Additionally, a document GE provided to TheDC establishes that the company paid $2.671 billion globally in income tax in 2010.

The document, a two-page chart from GE’s audited financial statements, turns on its head a strange corporate-accountability episode that began with an erroneous New York Times story.

The Times’ David Kocieniewski reported on March 24, 2011 that the company’s “American tax bill” was “None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.”

Kocieniewski has gradually amended his take on GE’s income tax situation without the Times ever retracting or correcting the original story. On August 31, 2011 he reported that GE officials “expected to pay a small amount of cash taxes.”

Then, in a September 10, 2011 story about tax breaks for video game companies, Kocieniewski explained — correctly — that “[n]either corporations nor the government make tax returns public, and the information most companies disclose in their regulatory filings is insufficient to determine how much they pay in federal taxes and how that compares to the official United States corporate rate of 35 percent.”

Nevertheless, the March 2011 piece, titled “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether,” sparked dozens of cable news stories, hundreds of other reported news pieces, thousands of indignant blog postings, and countless tweets.

“GE did pay taxes in 2010, in fact it paid $1 billion in U.S. taxes that year, including federal income taxes,” company spokesman Andrew Williams told TheDC. (RELATED: More on General Electric)

He later clarified that the $1 billion number included “all state, local and federal taxes in the U.S.”

“GE agrees that the U.S. tax system needs to be reformed to close loopholes,” Williams added. “Congress can do something about it.”

It’s unclear how the Times arrived at the conclusion that GE paid no income taxes in 2010, although Kocieniewski’s reference to a “tax benefit of $3.2 billion” seems to refer to one line in an early version of a financial statement which reported that exact number.

But the “tax benefit” in question, two different accountants told TheDC, referred to the corporate equivalent of personal income tax deductions that can lower a filer’s taxable income. The accountants explained that this is not the same as a tax refund.

The Weekly Standard reported that GE filed a 57,000 page tax return for 2010. GE has not released that tax filing, and a company representative declined to provide the first 50 pages of that return when TheDC requested a copy.

GE provided a statement and supporting documents exclusively to TheDC after it asked Senate Majority Harry Reid, on video, whether GE’s failure to pay income taxes in 2010 was a bigger issue than Mitt Romney’s 13.9 percent tax rate on $21.6 million in income during the same year.

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