Fix the Debt, a group of CEOs at some of the country’s largest corporations, has been pushing an anti-debt agenda with stern warnings about the urgent need for deficit reduction. But many of its members have benefitted from a loophole in the tax code that has allowed them to deduct “performance pay” from their executive salaries and thus avoid paying millions in taxes.
A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies and Campaign for America’s Future finds that 90 member firms took in somewhere between $953 million and $1.6 billion through the ability to deduct performance pay from corporate taxes between 2009 and 2011. The report includes the biggest winners of this loophole:
— UnitedHealth Group: This company was at the top of the list, deducting at least $194 million of its total $199 million compensation for CEO Stephen Hemsley during that time period. The report calculates that this works out to a $68 million taxpayer subsidy to UnitedHealth, plus another $10 million tax break for Hemsley’s $28 million performance pay in 2012.
— Discovery Communications: This company came in second, deducting $105 million of a total compensation package of $114 million for CEO David Zaslav from 2009 to 2011. That comes to a $37 million taxpayer subsidy. It got another $9 million tax break for his performance pay in 2012.
— Caesars Entertainment: Even though this company has been losing money in recent years, CEO Gary Loveman made $9.6 million in cash bonuses during that time.
During that three-year period, CEOs and the next three top executives at each of the 90 Fix the Debt corporations were paid a total of $6.3 billion, 75 percent of which was in fully deductible performance pay, equaling $2.7 billion. Depending on how everything was calculated (which is hard to know with current disclosure rules), that comes to about $1.5 million in taxpayer subsidy per executive or $18 million per company.
The group has previously pushed for tax reform that would result in even bigger windfalls for the corporations they represent, potentially netting them $134 billion. Members have also been vocal in calling for cuts to Social Security while themselves enjoying millions of dollars saved in their personal retirement accounts.