GE tax controversy sparks Columbia protest

The New York Times reported General Electric paid nothing in federal taxes for 2010.
Grass Roots Organizing member Jean Blackwood works with Columbia resident Dinah Pearson as she writes a letter to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to protest the elimination of Social Security. GRO held the protest outside the Columbia Post Office on Monday. Natalie Cheng/Associate Editor

Grass Roots Organizing, the Mexico, Mo.-based organization, took to the streets Monday to protest what it says is an unfair abuse of tax laws after The New York Times reported General Electric claimed $5.2 billion in profits from its American operations, yet paid nothing in federal taxes.

“Giant corporations are really avoiding paying their taxes,” GRO member Lily Tinker-Fortel said. “We’re paying our taxes. Wall Street should be paying their fair share too.”

GRO members used the last day of filing taxes as an opportunity to protest outside of Columbia’s downtown post office. Volunteers stopped those walking into or by the building and asked them to write letters to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and President Barack Obama to take action against Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cuts, as well as corporate tax loopholes.

“In the last two days, we’ll have collected over 200 letters to those elected, encouraging them to protect Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare,” Tinker-Fortel said. “I recognize that Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are all programs that the American people want to protect and don’t want to see cut.”

Tinker-Fortel said she believed there was a strong connection between the program cuts and large corporations' tax-minimizing policies.

“We’re talking about a budget crisis, and we’re raising awareness to the fact that these corporations aren’t paying their fair share in taxes, but that they’re talking about cutting these vital programs which are so important to the vast majority of Americans,” Tinker-Fortel said.

GRO Executive Director Robin Acree said she thinks the decisions corporations make with regard to taxes directly affect communities.

“We’ve got to hold corporate America accountable," Acree said. "They’ve got to quit wall stripping our communities."

According to Acree, several students stopped to write letters and several more volunteered. But not everyone who saw the protest was convinced to write his or her legislators.

“They just told me they were signing a petition for Medicare or something,” freshman Alexia McGhee said. “I honestly don’t feel like it affects me.”

The New York Times reported GE spent over $4 million on outside lobbyists last year.

“We are a diverse company, so there are a lot of issues that the government considers, that Congress considers, that affect our shareholders,” G.E. spokesman Gary Sheffer told the New York Times. “So we want to be sure our voice is heard.”

Tinker-Fortel said the relationship between lobbyists and legislators inhibited true democracy.

“My opinion on corporate lobbyists in Congress is that they have far too much influence,” Tinker-Fortel said. “The ideal of a democratic society is a government run of the people, by the people and for the people. Too often today I think that we see the corporations are running the government.”

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