News Release

35 Big Corporations Paid More to Top Executives Than Federal Taxes


A new report from Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies found that 35 major U.S. corporations paid less in federal income tax between 2018 and 2022 than they paid their top five executives. Those companies were all cumulatively profitable during that time period. 

Among those 35 corporations, their total executive compensation over the five-year timespan was $9.5 billion, while their combined federal income tax bills came to negative $1.8 billion, i.e. they received refunds totaling that amount.

The 64 firms in the study paid an average federal tax rate of 2.8 percent. 

    Rice is a senior writer at Americans for Tax Fairness and a coauthor of the report.

Rice told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “Dozens of big corporations are paying their top five executives more than they are paying in taxes. It resonates with the public as being unfair. 

“The financial reports of these corporations are not clear for anyone who isn’t an accountant. They are very long, have lots of small print, and the information provided is not user friendly. The actual tax returns are [also] not public––they’re private. Corporations complain that [research on corporate taxes from the last 40 years] lacks context, but no corporation has successfully pointed out why the numbers are wrong or supplied their tax returns to show what they’re paying.

“If you include corporations that [paid more to their top executives than they did in federal taxes] in all five years, you’re talking about $15 billion in executive pay. The scale is astounding. They’re not doing anything illegal here, but the way Congress has set up the tax code, even companies that are doing reasonably well get to pay little to no taxes or else get refunds. 

“It’s important that people know about this. One of the ways that large corporations and other wealthy people get away with this is that they live in a totally different world than average Americans or citizens of any other country. [The public] is unaware of the details of how they pay so little in taxes relative to their wealth and income. People have a vague, accurate understanding that the system is rigged against them, but they are busy with their own lives. This is a concrete example of the sense of unfairness.

Rice emphasizes that there are solutions to the problem, however. The corporate tax rate was 35 percent prior to the Trump presidency, when it was cut to 21 percent. In President Biden’s State of the Union address this month, and in the follow-up budget, he proposed “raising the corporate tax to 28 percent and increasing the minimum tax for corporations with more than $1 billion in assets [to 15 percent]. Some of those companies can go years paying very little taxes or none… [Biden] also wants to close the loophole that currently allows companies to deduct salaries of over $1 million.” Those are two main corporate reforms, along with ensuring that offshore profits are taxed at the same rate as domestic profits. 

Rice noted that reforms included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, like the new corporate minimum tax, were promising but did not go into effect until 2023. “We can expect some changes. Some of these companies are getting caught up in the new rules.” Companies like Duke Energy and Whirlpool were both hit by Biden’s 15 percent minimum tax in 2023. Both those companies make the Americans for Tax Fairness report’s “Terrible 10.” Duke paid top executives over $180 million and received a tax refund of almost $2 billion, while Whirlpool paid top executives over $160 million and paid an effective tax rate of just 7 percent––one-third of the official 21 percent rate.