Senate Floor Statement Facebook's $16 Billion Stock Option Tax Deduction

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mr. President, tomorrow will be a day in tax history – when Facebook goes public, it will get a $16 billion tax deduction, which is the largest tax deduction ever taken by any corporation exploiting the stock option tax loophole.

Facebook's recent filings in anticipation of its upcoming stock offering provide new facts about its plans to use stock option tax deductions, not only to help it avoid future taxes for years and years to come, but to get a refund of taxes it's already paid.
 
Facebook’s recent registration statement shows that, due to hundreds of millions of stock options handed out to its founders and top executives, it plans to claim stock option tax deductions worth a whopping $16 billion.  That’s more than twice as much as estimates a few months ago, and many, many times larger than the stock option expenses shown on Facebook’s ledgers.
 
Facebook is a booming, successful company.  Its securities filing boasts of double-digit increases in Facebook’s average revenue per user, citing a 32 percent increase in 2010, and another 25 percent increase in 2011, with “growth across all regions.”  Despite trumpeting those revenue increases to investors, Facebook is planning at the same time to tell Uncle Sam it has no taxable income, offsetting its revenues with stock option tax deductions.

Facebook’s $16 billion stock option tax deduction is so huge, it will enable Facebook to claim a $500 million refund of taxes paid over the prior two years and wipe out this year’s tax bill.  The company says it will also use its deduction to create a “net operating loss” that can be used to eliminate its profits and its taxes for up to 20 years into the future.
 
As with so much of our tax code, it’s not the law-breaking that shocks the conscience, it’s the stuff that’s allowed.  For years, my Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has identified this stock option tax loophole and tried to explain its cost, its unfairness, and why the loophole should be closed.  Facebook’s $16 billion tax deduction brings the issue into sharp focus.
 
This profitable corporation will stop paying any federal corporate income taxes, simply because it gave hundreds of millions of stock options to its executives.  It will go from a corporate citizen that paid its taxes, to one that not only pays no taxes to Uncle Sam on its profits, but gets a tax refund.

Some Facebook defenders claim the company’s nonpayment of taxes is offset by the taxes paid by its executives.  But first of all, Facebook demands and receives government services that its executives don’t – from patent protection to cybersecurity to trade enforcement.  Second, the fact that executives pay taxes doesn’t mean corporations shouldn’t pay taxes.  Facebook should be paying its fair share, and it’s only through a tax loophole that it won’t be.  Adding insult to injury is that one of its founders recently renounced his U.S. citizenship just to avoid paying his taxes.

Facebook is an American success story.  Its ability to use a stock option loophole to zero out its U.S. tax bill, despite ample profits, makes no sense.  It also isn’t fair to the rest of American taxpayers who will have to pay more because Facebook pays nothing.
 
In these tough economic times, Congress needs to make choices about where to spend taxpayer dollars.  The stock option tax deduction, as demonstrated by Facebook, fuels excessive executive pay, shifts the tax burden from corporations to other taxpayers, and enables profitable corporations to get out of paying a dime toward the country that helped make their success possible.
 
What could our nation do with the billions of dollars it will lose when Facebook uses the stock-option loophole?  Well, we could reduce the federal deficit.  Or we could pay for programs to help kids go to college, or programs that protect our seniors and veterans, put cops on the beat, or teachers in classrooms.

The stock-option loophole should have been closed long before Facebook’s stock option bonanza.  But surely the case of Facebook illustrates to the Senate, to the Congress, and to the American people why we should close this loophole.   If Congress were to enact the Levin-Sherrod Brown bill, S. 1375, it would close an unjustified corporate tax loophole that boosts executive pay at the expense of everybody else.  

Mr. President, I thank the Chair and yield the floor.