Nick Shaxson ■ TJN sparring partner caught up in Panama Papers scandal


Center freedom prosperityBack in 2005 a lobby group in Washington, D.C. issued a press release entitled Tax Justice Network Sides with Europe’s Tax Collectors, Ignores Critical Role of Low-Tax Jurisdiction in Protecting Human Rights and Promoting Pro-Growth Policy.

The bizarre press release accused us of putting at risk the lives of “Jews in France, or homosexuals in Saudi Arabia” because . . . well, read the press release to get a flavour (and look at our generic responses to these kinds of things, here or here, for instance.)

The Center for Freedom and Prosperity (CFP, for it was they) were a tiny but influential organisation linked to the libertarian Cato Institute, which proved a key player in beating back the OECD’s so-called Harmful Tax Competition initiative to tackle tax havens, launched in 1998 to little effect.

Now the Washington Post is carrying an article entitled How an obscure nonprofit in Washington protects tax havens for the rich. And the nonprofit is, of course, our old friends the CFP.

The article begins:

“In May 2007, during a global crackdown on offshore tax havens, an obscure nonprofit lobbying group in Northern Virginia sent a fundraising pitch to a law firm in one of the biggest tax havens in the world — Panama.”

And of course that law firm is Mossack Fonseca, the crime-facilitating operation at the heart of the Panama Papers scandal. The CFP in 2007 sent Mossack and eight-page fundraising document with suggested gift levels ranging from $500 to $20,000, and

“. . . said it counted “allies and friends in more than 50 countries” and had “a major impact on the international tax competition debate.”
. . .
the center said it was launching an aggressive campaign on Capitol Hill to protect the secrecy of tax havens, “specifically targeting members of the tax writing, banking, budget, appropriations and commerce committees.”

Which is not so far from the truth. To read an account of how the CFP helped kill the ill-designed OECD project, see Marty Sullivan’s Lessons from the Last War on Tax Havens in Tax Analysts in 2007: it’s a really useful short history lesson for those keen to understand better the complex politics of this whole messy game. (For a longer treatment, see also the “Resistance” chapter in Treasure Islands, which describes a meeting with the CFP’s personally charming but analytically challenged Dan Mitchell, and explores their wider arguments.)

The article contains a stunningly good quotation from our old friend Carl Levin, who was until he retired arguably the U.S. greatest anti tax haven fighter of his age:

“It’s like trading with the enemy,” said Levin, whose staff on a powerful panel investigating tax havens regularly faced public challenges from the center. “I consider tax havens the enemy. They’re the enemy of American taxpayers and the things we try to do with our revenues — infrastructure, roads, bridges, education, defense. They help to starve us of resources that we need for all the things we do. And this center is out there helping them to accomplish that.”

Quite so. One for our quotations page.



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