But in private, Clinton says something quite different to corporations and trade groups.
An 80-page report compiled by Clinton’s own campaign of potentially damaging remarks she made behind closed doors was published by Wikileaks on Friday. It includes extensive comments on tax policy.
During an October 13, 2014, speech to the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, Clinton told the audience that “A number of business leaders have been talking to my husband and me about an idea that would allow the repatriation of the couple trillion dollars that are out there. And you would get a lower rate — a really low rate — if you were willing to invest a percentage in an infrastructure bank.”
Clinton has repeatedly called for increased spending on U.S. infrastructure, but has never specified where the needed revenue would come from.
In a speech the previous month to the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, Clinton also said that a lower rate for all corporate profits regardless of where they are earned “certainly could be on the table” as long as that was “part of a broader package.” However, she specified that “if all you do is lower the rates” that “there’s a price to pay” in terms of lower tax revenue.
American multinational corporations are currently stashing a staggering $2.4 trillion in profits — about 14 percent of the size of the entire U.S. economy — overseas. Multinationals are required by U.S. law to pay the statutory 35 percent tax on profits they earn anywhere on earth, but the tax is not assessed until the profits are brought back to the U.S.
This has allowed Corporate America to essentially hold U.S. tax revenue hostage, refusing to pay its taxes until Americans become so desperate that they will cut a deal giving multinationals a special new tax rate.
This strategy has already paid off once, in 2004, when multinationals got Congress to let them bring back $312 billion in profits at a one-time rate of about 5 percent. The legislation required that the cash be used to hire Americans or conduct research and development. Corporations ignored these provisions and instead used the money to enrich their executives and stockholders, while cutting U.S. jobs.
Both Hillary and Bill Clinton clearly envision cutting a similar deal during a Hillary Clinton presidency, although presumably they intend for the corporations to keep their part of the bargain this time.
Just last month, Bill Clinton told the audience at a Clinton Foundation Event that the corporate tax rate “should be lowered” with “X percent of [repatriated profits], whatever percent, [going] into buying investments in the national infrastructure program.” Clinton added, “This is just me now, I’m not speaking for …” and then trailed off.
Hillary Clinton said the same thing during a private August 2014 speech to the software storage company Nexenta: “I would like to find a way to repatriate the overseas earnings and I’ve read a really interesting proposal. … John Chambers and others … basically have said they would be willing to invest a percentage of their repatriated profits in an infrastructure bank … I thought that was a really intriguing idea.”
Chambers was the CEO of Cisco at the time, and a vociferous proponent of corporations refusing to bring their profits home until they receive such a sweetheart deal.
Donald Trump has a similar plan to slash corporate tax rates to 15 percent (with a special rate for repatriated profits of 10 percent) although without requirements for corporations to participate in funding an infrastructure bank.