If you were fooled into believing yesterday’s Tax Day announcement that General Electric planned to donate its entire 2010 tax return of $3.2 billion to the US Treasury, don’t feel bad. At least you didn’t publish an article about it on a news service picked up by thousands of media outlets. That ignominious honor belongs to the Associated Press. Thanks to their slip-up—the result of AP “not following its own standards for verifying the authenticity of a news release”—major publications like USA Today ran the story, only to find out they, along with GE had been hoodwinked by those clever Yes Men.
As with any Yes Men prank, the joke wasn’t so much intended to be on the mainstream media. They were just the unwitting accomplice in an attempt to poke GE and other large corporations who have managed to avoid paying taxes despite an economic crisis that’s led to job cuts and slashed services for hard-working people.
Appropriately, the Yes Men—through their Yes Lab project—worked in concert with the the grassroots anti-tax fraud group US Uncut to pull off the prank. Rather ingeniously, after sending out the “GE” press release from an email that was only a couple letters different from the real GE PR-team, US Uncut responded with its own press release, thanking GE for coming clean, but ultimately saying it wasn’t enough.
“This is a good first step,” said, US Uncut spokesman Carl Gibson. “But even if they return their full $3.2 billion 2010 tax benefit as they’re promising, they will still have paid $0 in US taxes since 2006, when they had profits of $26 billion. So while we welcome this gesture by GE, it is only a first step. GE should pay its share, and Congress needs to stop the budget cuts and close the tax loopholes that give the richest corporations a free ride.”
“This just shows the power of the growing backlash to corporate power in America,” said US Uncut spokesman Duncan Meisel. “In just a few short months, regular Americans have put the biggest companies in America on the defensive as a result of bold, direct action in our communities. The billions that GE is returning to the US Treasury will enable us to restore a few of the recent devastating cuts to health, education and infrastructure that so many of us count on. People across America who are hurting and angry will be pleased to read the papers for a change. We hope other corporate tax cheats, like Verizon, Bank of America, FedEx, and ExxonMobil follow GE’s lead.”
“We’re hoping this isn’t a publicity stunt,” said Gibson. “Promises just aren’t enough – we need to see results from GE and then from Congress. We’re still planning to continue with our actions this weekend. We won’t stop until the cuts stop.”
A stunt it most definitely was—but a wholly righteous one. After all, GE was forced to admit that it had no such plans to do the right thing. Of course, as Us Uncut later pointed out, the law doesn’t allow for companies like GE to do the right thing because if it did their stock would plummet. During the period the hoax was believed, GE’s stock actually did drop 0.6 percent—an amount, according to US Uncut, that was far more than the supposed value of the tax return.
Once the prank had run its course, US Uncut gave this summation of the day’s events:
“At a time when working families are being asked to accept massive cuts nationwide, this action showed another way the world could work,” said US Uncut spokesperson Carl Gibson. “For a brief moment people believed that the biggest corporate tax dodger had a change of heart and actually did the right thing. But the only way anything like this is really going to happen is if we change the laws that allow corporate tax avoidance in the first place.”