The Senate could vote as soon as this week on a climate and tax bill that, if passed, would give a huge amount of power to a shadowy group of accountants in Norwalk, Connecticut, according to the DealBook newsletter.
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of former Treasury secretaries, including Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Timothy F. Geithner, endorsed the bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, saying it would fight inflation and address climate problems. The group also said the legislation was “funded by prudent fiscal policy.”
Much of the bill will be funded by a minimum 15 percent tax on corporate profits. That’s meant to address a long-standing problem: Many profitable companies, including giants like Amazon, pay little or no federal income taxes, take advantage of legitimate tax breaks, but also use strategies many believe are just seeking to avoid taxes.
The legislation would require companies that make more than $1 billion in annual profits to pay no less than 15 percent of their “accounting income” — the amount they report to shareholders but not to the IRS — in federal income taxes. That figure would be adjusted for several factors, including foreign taxes and research and development credits.
This is where accounting officers come in. Nearly 50 years ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission assigned the responsibility for writing and updating its “generally accepted accounting principles,” which determine how quarterly and annual earnings are calculated, to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, a private organization funded by corporations and overseen by a nonprofit group, the Financial Accounting Foundation.
FASB, pronounced “fazbie,” is run by a seven-member board of professional accountants and investors. Under the new tax regime, one way to tweak corporate America’s tax bill would be to have the FASB rewrite how companies calculate their profits, which is softer than you might think.
So what do we know about the accounting standard setters and the leaders of the foundation that oversees them, who could suddenly have a huge influence on tax policy?
The group lacks diversity: the board is made up of four white men and three white women. A FASB spokesperson told DealBook that the organization, which was founded in 1973, has never had a board member of color.
She also has political connections: Kathleen Casey, head of the board’s nominating committee, is a former SEC commissioner and former chief of staff to Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, who has long called for lower taxes on corporations and the rich.
And its members are well paid: Richard Jones, a former top executive at the accounting firm Ernst & Young who left to be FASB chairman, received a base salary of $1 million last year, according to a tax return. The lowest salary among board members was still above $800,000.
Furthermore, Mr. Jones does not appear to be a supporter of the minimum corporate tax. Last year, he said in a speech that he was against basing a minimum corporate tax on book income.
Mr. Jones said the group’s role was to establish accounting rules that best conveyed the health of a company. Using countable income to determine tax payments would inject public policy into financial accounting, he said, making it difficult for his organization to do his job.
“It would be an added pressure, for sure, on our mission and what we do,” he said.