Recently, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) was chattin’ up some citizens at a townhall meeting where he told a little anecdote about asking a GE “tax officer” how long the company’s tax return was for this year. He was told (and the Weekly Standard confirmed) that it was in the nabe of 57,000 pages. Granted, GE filed their return electronically, so there’s no way we can officially know what the count is but the combination of the world’s best tax law firm and a grip of savvy loaned KPMG employees managed to keep it under 60k. Nice job, everyone. [TWS via TaxProf]
You may remember earlier this year when The New York Times broke a little story about General Electric’s tax savvy ways and the best tax law firm the universe had ever seen (aka the GE tax department).
The report�������������������� href=”http://www.goingconcern.com/2011/03/jon-stewart-reacts-to-ges-tax-savviness/”>a few people to get bent out of shape because the Times said GE was enjoying $14.2 billion in profit while “claim[ing] a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.” What that “benefit” really entailed was a mystery but many people jumped to the conclusion that it was a “refund” and ProPublica (possibly a little peeved that they got scooped) tried to set the record straight on the Times story.
Despite all the back and forth, everyone was pissed at GE. The company lost a Twitter joust with Henry Blodget and then a bogus press release went out claiming the company was returning the “refund” of $3.2 billion and the Associated Press ran it. Slightly awkward.
The latest twist comes from a tip we received earlier about a “Preservation Notice” sent to all KPMG employees yesterday from the firm’s Office of General Counsel (“OGC”).
URGENT TARGETED PRESERVATION NOTICE: GENERAL ELECTRIC’S LOAN STAFF ARRANGEMENTS
Please be advised that until further notice from KPMG LLP’s (KPMG or firm) Office of General Counsel (OGC), you are hereby directed to take all steps necessary to preserve and protect any and all documents created or received from January 1, 2008 through the date of this Notice relating or referring to the loaning, assignment or secondment of tax or other professionals to General Electric Company and its direct and indirect subsidiaries, affiliates and divisions (collectively “General Electric’s Loan Staff Arrangements”).
As Klynvedlians know, these preservation notices come out so often that you barely even notice them. When you do notice them is when the partner in charge of your team informs you about it before it hits your inbox. What follows is basically the biggest CYA exercise you’ve ever seen. They roll in giant dumpsters and every last scrap of paper you’ve ever written on gets throw in and eventually it gets shipped off to OGC. Your life doesn’t really change all that much other than you’re not allowed to delete another email EVER. At least that’s how I remember it.
ANYWAY, this notice seems a little different. Why exactly? Here’s a excerpt from McKenna’s post:
In defiance of [Sarbanes-Oxley] provisions, KPMG – GE’s auditor – provides “loaned staff” or staff augmentation to GE’s tax department each year. These “temps” perform tasks that would be otherwise the responsibility of GE staff. Sources tell me KPMG employees working in GE tax have GE email addresses, are supervised by GE managers – there is no KPMG manager or partner on premises – and have access to GE employee facilities. They use GE computers because the software required for their tasks is GE proprietary software.
This type of “secondment” to an audit client is never allowed. KPMG should know better.
YEESH. So any documents going back to January of 2008 that relate or refer to someone being assigned under this allegedly dubious arrangement must be preserved. You don’t have to be John Veihmeyer to know that’s a METRIC ASSTON of documentation. It’s not that GE’s tax needs are seasonal; they’re more like “perpetual” or “infinity times infinity.” A company with the best tax law firm already in house that also has an arrangement with a their auditor to throw a few more people at the problem indicates that they are working on this shit 24/7. For KPMG, it amounts to a nice little revenue stream and it keeps lots tax staff busy throughout the year.
But what caused the notice? That’s the question. Our tipster speculated that the PCAOB and SEC might be up to something but per standard operating procedure, neither will confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation or inquiry. KPMG spokesman George Ledwith did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Like we stated previously, these preservation notices are a dime a dozen but because this one deals with General Electric and presumably their tax compliance it qualifies as outside the norm. If you’re in the know or know of someone in the know or have anything else to add, email us or comment below.
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And by “figured out,” I’m referring to “worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and […] $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States,” combined with a grand total $0.00 in taxes. “In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion,” reports the Times.
Sure the Internal Revenue Code is complex but if you’re aggressive, have a few lobbyists at your disposal and your tax department is “often referred to as the best tax law firm,” the IRC is a cakewalk.
Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm. Indeed, the company’s slogan “Imagination at Work” fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.