EDITORIAL: Panama Papers are proof of tax loopholes–but does anyone care?

Photo courtesy of: Bernal Saborio/Flickr

Perhaps the most important data leak in world history happened just four days ago–and we’re willing to bet most of you haven’t heard much about it.

An unprecedented 2.6 terabytes of data were leaked over a year ago, and in the time leading up to Sunday, hundreds of journalists in more than 100 news organizations across the world worked to uncover all of the stories hidden in the documents.

They released this information as part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to protect themselves, so that no one journalist could be targeted as a scapegoat.

They’re calling this leak the Panama Papers and they cover roughly 40 years of global tax evasion through the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca in Panama.

You could read about these leaks on Sunday on the ICIJ website, as well as hundreds of foreign news agencies. When the papers were released the period of time following, there were over 500 thousand tweets mentioning the leak. A post on Reddit announcing the Panama Papers had over 16 thousand up-votes in the span of a few hours.

But if you tried to read about this story on CNN or the New York Times, good luck. There wasn’t a peep that day from most American news agencies, and even now, news of the NCAA tournament takes up more space on the NY Time’s homepage than does the Panama Papers.

So why is that? It’s pretty well documented that corporations, politicians and the wealthy elite thrive on avoiding paying their fair share of taxes. Visit USA Today, and you’ll see a list featuring top Fortune 500 companies that paid little-to-no income taxes last year.

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has anchored his campaign on ridding tax loopholes. Loopholes that allow companies reporting billions of profit each year to pay roughly 2 percent income tax, which is much lower than the average American pays. Ignoring the disparities between tax brackets and income, most Americans can expect to pay over 10 percent of their wages to federal income tax.

Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, has vilified corporate and Wall Street tax evasion, and has done so unabashedly.  On her blog, she’s publicly declared the American tax code as “rigged.”

“Huge corporations hire armies of lawyers and lobbyists to create, expand, and protect every law corporate loophole,” she writes.

So why then is the direct evidence of these tax loopholes, which are likely tied to hundreds if not thousands (according to the ICIJ report) of wealthy elites across the globe, not receiving more news coverage in America? (The ICIJ will release a full list of companies and names tied to Mossack Fronseca in early May, it claims).

This is a topical issue (as the Bernie Sanders campaign would likely agree) that affects each and every one of us. When companies or wealthy Americans don’t pay taxes, it’s not only unethical, it’s completely legal. It’s only illegal if we, the bottom percent of the populace do it.

Try lying to the IRS or simply not doing your taxes each year. You’ll likely regret it quicker than you can say “Tax Day.”

As you know, taxes pay for stuff. Stuff like roads, social services and wars. Mostly wars, but other things too. But these same people who stand on podiums and say that we, as a governed people need to pay taxes are the same people who are doing everything in their power to avoid paying theirs.

It needs to stop. And we as Americans need to let them know that. Or, we at least need to act like we give a shit.