The joke goes, The economy is so bad Exxon Mobil laid off 25 Congressmen.  If only.

Turns out the economy is never really bad for the oil giant, and the last thing they would want to do is cut off support to members of Congress who allow them to pull off the remarkable trick of making $45 billion in profits last year but paying no federal income tax.  Think Progress reports the stunning news, which, sadly, is not a Steve Martin routine:

 

Last week, Forbes magazine published what the top U.S. corporations paid in taxes last year. “Most egregious,” Forbes notes, is General Electric, which “generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion.” Big Oil giant Exxon Mobil, which last year reported a record $45.2 billion profit, paid the most taxes of any corporation, butnone of it went to the IRS:

Exxon tries to limit the tax pain with the help of 20 wholly owned subsidiaries domiciled in the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands that (legally) shelter the cash flow from operations in the likes of Angola, Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi. No wonder that of $15 billion in income taxes last year, Exxon paid none of it to Uncle Sam, and has tens of billions in earnings permanently reinvested overseas.

Mother Jones’ Adam Weinstein notes that, despite benefiting from corporate welfare in the U.S., Exxon complains about paying high taxes, claiming that it threatens energy innovation research. Pat Garofalo at the Wonk Room notes that big corporations’ tax shelter practices similar to Exxon’s shift a $100 billion annual tax burden onto U.S. taxpayers. In fact, in 2008, the Government Accountability Office found that “two out of every three United States corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1998 through 2005.”

Media Matters adds:

Even though Exxon doesn’t contribute anything to the federal government, it spends millions of dollars trying to control it.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Exxon Mobil spent a whopping $27,430,000 on lobbying in 2009 alone.

Oh, and you’ll be delighted to know that, as the Financial Times reports today “ExxonMobil, the world’s largest international oil company, has agreed to pay the US government $32.2m in a settlement to resolve claims that it knowingly underpaid royalties owed on natural gas produced from federal and native American leases, the justice department said on Monday.”

Someday, ExxonMobilShellChevronConocoPhilips will be one big company making tens of billions of dollars in profit, while paying no federal income taxes and spending millions spreading disinformation aimed at keeping us addicted to their toxic product.

And if this reminds you of an old Steve Martin joke — then you are right.  From SNL in 1978:

You.. can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes! You can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes!

You say.. “Steve.. how can I be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes?”

First.. get a million dollars. Now.. you say, “Steve.. what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, ‘You.. have never paid taxes’?”

Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: “I forgot!” How many times do we let ourselves get into terrible situations because we don’t say “I forgot”?

Let’s say you’re on trial for armed robbery. You say to the judge, “I forgot armed robbery was illegal.” Let’s suppose he says back to you, “You have committed a foul crime. you have stolen hundreds and thousands of dollars from people at random, and you say, ‘I forgot’?” Two simple words: Excuuuuuse me!!

Well, it’s ain’t armed.  But it is robbery.

UPDATE via Forbes:

Though Exxon’s financial statement’s don’t show any net income tax liability owed to Uncle Sam, a company spokesman insists that once its final tax bill is figured, Exxon will owe a “substantial 2009 tax liability.” How substantial? “That’s not something we’re required to disclose, nor do we.”

UPDATE2 via Mother Jones:

Which leaves the figures in ExxonMobil’s 10-K largely unexplained: Even if the firm overpaid taxes and earned a refund, it still wouldn’t show up as a zero or a positive revenue in cashflow—unless the paid tax liabilities are concealed elsewhere in the report. And it doesn’t explain why ExxonMobil’s figures are so out of wack with its peer corporations, like Wal-Mart, cited in the original story above, or Chevron, which listed $200 million in US income tax on the same line in its 10-K,Forbes reported.

In any case, the original story is wrong in this respect: According to the 10-K, a screenshot of which is provided below, ExxonMobil didn’t have a zero-tax liability in 2009; it was actually owed 26 million by the IRS, against $15.1 billion in foreign taxes owed. As Jeffers says, that may not be the case; but it’s what ExxonMobil told the SEC, its shareholders, and the world. And since the firm refuses to share its actual tax numbers with the public, it’s all we have to go by.