Warren on Amazon's $0 tax bill: Yes, it's legal, and that's the problem

Release date:
Apr 13, 2019

Elizabeth Warren is making Amazon the poster child for her plan to raise $1 trillion in government revenue with a proposed 7 percent surtax on corporate profits above $100 million.

Singling out the company in a post on Medium, the Massachusetts senator and 2020 presidential candidate chided the company for managing to avoid paying federal income taxes in 2018 despite profits of $11.2 billion.

Amazon responded to Warren’s post with a statement that said the company pays “all the taxes we are required to pay in the U.S. and every country where we operate,” and noting its American business investments as well as the 250,000 workers it employs here.

Warren was unimpressed. She responded with a tweet that acknowledged she wasn’t accusing Amazon of illegality; her point was precisely the fact that their legal tax liability was zero.

In response to my plan, Amazon says it "pays all the taxes we are required to pay in the US." Yeah, I know. You made more than $10 billion in profits last year and you were required to pay $0 in federal corporate taxes. That's the problem. https://t.co/FWajm72V9g

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 11, 2019

Warren, who has outpaced her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination in terms of substantive policy proposals, said in her Medium post that the U.S. tax code was in need of an overhaul so that companies like Amazon would pay federal taxes.

“There are two sets of rules for reporting a company’s profits. Companies follow established financial accounting rules to calculate the value of the profits they report to shareholders and the public,” Warren wrote in her post. “But they follow a different set of tax accounting rules to calculate the ‘profits’ they report to the IRS and pay corporate income taxes on. Because of relentless lobbying, our corporate income tax rules are filled with so many loopholes and exemptions and deductions that even companies that tell shareholders they have made more than a billion dollars in profits can end up paying no corporate income taxes.”

Her plan, Warren said, would mean “Amazon would pay $698 million in taxes instead of paying zero.”

In a crowded field of 17 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, Warren — who has made a point of not courting big-money donors — placed fifth in the amount of individual donations she received in the first quarter of 2019. In a Morning Consult poll of 2020 contenders, Warren also placed fifth, behind former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke.