RICHMOND, Va. — In late July, Norman Otey was rushed by ambulance to Richmond Community Hospital. The 63-year-old was doubled over in pain and babbling incoherently. Blood tests suggested septic shock, a grave emergency that required the resources and expertise of an intensive care unit.
But Richmond Community, a struggling hospital in a predominantly Black neighborhood, had closed its I.C.U. in 2017.
It took several hours for Mr. Otey to be transported to another hospital, according to his sister, Linda Jones-Smith. He deteriorated on the way there, and later died of sepsis. Two people who cared for Mr. Otey said the delay had most likely contributed to his death.
the hospital’s financial data.
More than half of all hospitals in the United States are set up as nonprofits, a designation that allows them to make money but avoid paying taxes. Although Bon Secours has taken a financial hit this year like many other hospital systems, the chain made nearly $1 billion in profit last year at its 50 hospitals in the United States and Ireland and was sitting on more than $9 billion in cash reserves. It avoids at least $440 million in federal, state and local taxes every year that it would otherwise have to pay, according to an analysis by the Lown Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
In exchange for the tax breaks, the Internal Revenue Service requires nonprofit hospitals to provide a benefit to their communities. But an investigation by The New York Times found that many of the country’s largest nonprofit hospital systems have drifted far from their charitable roots. The hospitals operate like for-profit companies, fixating on revenue targets and expansions into affluent suburbs.
borrowing tricks from business consultants, have trained staff to squeeze payments from poor patients who should be eligible for free care.
John M. Starcher Jr., made about $6 million in 2020, according to the most recent tax filings.
“Our mission is clear — to extend the compassionate ministry of Jesus by improving the health and well-being of our communities and bring good help to those in need, especially people who are poor, dying and underserved,” the spokeswoman, Maureen Richmond, said. Bon Secours did not comment on Mr. Otey’s case.
In interviews, doctors, nurses and former executives said the hospital had been given short shrift, and pointed to a decade-old development deal with the city of Richmond as another example.
In 2012, the city agreed to lease land to Bon Secours at far below market value on the condition that the chain expand Richmond Community’s facilities. Instead, Bon Secours focused on building a luxury apartment and office complex. The hospital system waited a decade to build the promised medical offices next to Richmond Community, breaking ground only this year.
‘Glorified Emergency Room’
founded in 1907 by Black doctors who were not allowed to work at the white hospitals across town. In the 1930s, Dr. Jackson’s grandfather, Dr. Isaiah Jackson, mortgaged his house to help pay for an expansion of the hospital. His father, also a doctor, would take his children to the hospital’s fund-raising telethons.
Cassandra Newby-Alexander at Norfolk State University.
got its first supermarket.
according to research done by Virginia Commonwealth University. The public bus route to St. Mary’s, a large Bon Secours facility in the northwest part of the city, takes more than an hour. There is no public transportation from the East End to Memorial Regional, nine miles away.
“It became impossible for me to send people to the advanced heart valve clinic at St. Mary’s,” said Dr. Michael Kelly, a cardiologist who worked at Richmond Community until Bon Secours scaled back the specialty service in 2019. He said he had driven some patients to the clinic in his own car.
Richmond Community has the feel of an urgent-care clinic, with a small waiting room and a tan brick facade. The contrast with Bon Secours’s nearby hospitals is striking.
At the chain’s St. Francis Medical Center, an Italianate-style compound in a suburb 18 miles from Community, golf carts shuttle patients from the lobby entrance, past a marble fountain, to their cars.
after the section of the federal law that authorized it, allows hospitals to buy drugs from manufacturers at a discount — roughly half the average sales price. The hospitals are then allowed to charge patients’ insurers a much higher price for the same drugs.
The theory behind the law was that nonprofit hospitals would invest the savings in their communities. But the 340B program came with few rules. Hospitals did not have to disclose how much money they made from sales of the discounted drugs. And they were not required to use the revenues to help the underserved patients who qualified them for the program in the first place.
In 2019, more than 2,500 nonprofit and government-owned hospitals participated in the program, or more than half of all hospitals in the country, according to the independent Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.
in wealthier neighborhoods, where patients with generous private insurance could receive expensive drugs, but on paper make the clinics extensions of poor hospitals to take advantage of 340B.
to a price list that hospitals are required to publish. That is nearly $22,000 profit on a single vial. Adults need two vials per treatment course.
work has shown that hospitals participating in the 340B program have increasingly opened clinics in wealthier areas since the mid-2000s.
were unveiling a major economic deal that would bring $40 million to Richmond, add 200 jobs and keep the Washington team — now known as the Commanders — in the state for summer training.
The deal had three main parts. Bon Secours would get naming rights and help the team build a training camp and medical offices on a lot next to Richmond’s science museum.
The city would lease Bon Secours a prime piece of real estate that the chain had long coveted for $5,000 a year. The parcel was on the city’s west side, next to St. Mary’s, where Bon Secours wanted to build medical offices and a nursing school.
Finally, the nonprofit’s executives promised city leaders that they would build a 25,000-square-foot medical office building next to Richmond Community Hospital. Bon Secours also said it would hire 75 local workers and build a fitness center.
“It’s going to be a quick timetable, but I think we can accomplish it,” the mayor at the time, Dwight C. Jones, said at the news conference.
Today, physical therapy and doctors’ offices overlook the football field at the training center.
On the west side of Richmond, Bon Secours dropped its plans to build a nursing school. Instead, it worked with a real estate developer to build luxury apartments on the site, and delayed its plans to build medical offices. Residents at The Crest at Westhampton Commons, part of the $73 million project, can swim in a saltwater pool and work out on communal Peloton bicycles. On the ground floor, an upscale Mexican restaurant serves cucumber jalapeño margaritas and a Drybar offers salon blowouts.
have said they plan to house mental health, hospice and other services there.
a cardiologist and an expert on racial disparities in amputation, said many people in poor, nonwhite communities faced similar delays in getting the procedure. “I am not surprised by what’s transpired with this patient at all,” he said.
Because Ms. Scarborough does not drive, her nephew must take time off work every time she visits the vascular surgeon, whose office is 10 miles from her home. Richmond Community would have been a five-minute walk. Bon Secours did not comment on her case.
“They have good doctors over there,” Ms. Scarborough said of the neighborhood hospital. “But there does need to be more facilities and services over there for our community, for us.”
ROME — President Biden and other world leaders endorsed a landmark global agreement on Saturday that seeks to block large corporations from shifting profits and jobs across borders to avoid taxes, a showcase win for a president who has found raising corporate tax rates an easier sell with other countries than with his own party in Congress.
The announcement in the opening session of the Group of 20 summit marked the world’s most aggressive attempt yet to stop opportunistic companies like Apple and Bristol Myers Squibb from sheltering profits in so-called tax havens, where tax rates are low and corporations often maintain little physical presence beyond an official headquarters.
It is a deal years in the making, which was pushed over the line by the sustained efforts of Mr. Biden’s Treasury Department, even as the president’s plans to raise taxes in the United States for new social policy and climate change programs have fallen short of his promises.
The revenue expected from the international pact is now critical to Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda, an unexpected outcome for a president who has presented himself more as a deal maker at home rather than abroad.
end the global practice of profit-shifting, celebrated the international tax provisions this week and said they would be significant steps toward Mr. Biden’s vision of a global economy where companies invest, hire and book more profits in the United States.
But they also conceded that infighting among congressional Democrats had left Mr. Biden short of fulfilling his promise to make corporations pay their “fair share,” disappointing those who have pushed Mr. Biden to reverse lucrative tax cuts for businesses passed under Mr. Trump.
The framework omits a wide range of corporate tax increases that Mr. Biden campaigned on and pushed relentlessly in the first months of his presidency. He could not persuade 50 Senate Democrats to raise the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent, or even to a compromise 25 percent, or to eliminate incentives that allow some large firms — like fossil fuel producers — to reduce their tax bills.
“It’s a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, step,” Erica Payne, the president of a group called Patriotic Millionaires that has urged tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, said in a statement after Mr. Biden’s framework announcement on Friday. “But it’s a step.”
The Treasury Department said on Friday that even the additional enforcement money for the I.R.S. could still generate $400 billion in additional tax revenue over 10 years and said that was a “conservative” estimate.
An administration official said that the difficulty in rolling back the Trump tax cuts was the result of the fact that the Democrats are a big tent party ideologically with a very narrow majority in Congress, where a handful of moderates currently rule.
In Rome, Mr. Biden’s struggle to raise taxes more has not complicated the sealing of the international agreement. The move by the heads of state to commit to putting the deal in place by 2023 looms as the featured achievement of the summit, and Mr. Biden’s surest victory of a European swing that also includes a climate conference in Scotland next week.
Briefing reporters on Friday evening, a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to preview the first day of the summit, said Biden aides were confident that world leaders were sophisticated and understood the nuances of American politics, including the challenges in passing Mr. Biden’s tax plans in Congress.
The official also said world leaders see the tax deal as reshaping the rules of the global economy.
The international tax agreement represented a significant achievement of economic diplomacy for Mr. Biden and Ms. Yellen, who dedicated much of her first year on the job to reviving negotiations that stalled during the Trump administration. To show that the United States was serious about a deal, she abandoned a provision that would have made it optional for American companies to pay new taxes to foreign countries and backed away from an initial demand for a global minimum tax of 21 percent.
For months, Ms. Yellen cajoled Ireland’s finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, to back the agreement, which would require Ireland to raise its 12.5 percent corporate tax rate — the centerpiece of its economic model to attract foreign investment. Ultimately, through a mix of pressure and pep talks, Ireland relented, removing a final obstacle that could have prevented the European Union from ratifying the agreement.
Some progressives in the United States say that Mr. Biden’s ability to follow through on his end of the bargain was a crucial piece of the framework spending bill.
“The international corporate reforms are the most important,” said Seth Hanlon, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, who specializes in tax policy, “because they are linked to the broader multilateral effort to stop the corporate race to the bottom. It’s so important for Congress to act this year to give that effort momentum.”
Jim Tankersley reported from Rome, and Alan Rappeport from Washington.
“I fully complied with Treasury Department conflicts rules by not meeting with PwC representatives” during a two-year “cooling off” period that restricts government officials from meeting with their former employers, Mr. Harter said. Although he was involved in the construction of the offshore tax break and met with corporate lobbyists, Mr. Harter said he did not recall meeting with Ms. Olson or other PwC officials on the topic.
Ms. Olson referred questions to PwC.
An Inside Track
The 2017 tax overhaul included a provision that let some people take a 20 percent tax deduction on certain types of business income. But the law — known as Section 199A — largely excluded an undefined category of “brokerage services.” In 2018, lobbyists for several industries, including real estate and insurance, visited the Treasury to try to persuade officials that the broker prohibition should not apply to them.
On Aug. 1, records show, Ms. Ellis met with her former PwC colleague, Mr. Feuerstein, and three other lobbyists for his client, the National Association of Realtors. They wanted real estate brokers to qualify for the 20 percent deduction.
The meeting took place before the first draft of the proposed rules was even made public, which meant that, right off the bat, Ms. Ellis’s former PwC colleague and his client had an inside track.
When the Treasury published its first version of the proposed rules a week later, real estate brokers were eligible. The National Association of Realtors took credit for the victory on its website. (The final rules applied only to brokers of stocks and other securities.)
Ms. Ellis’s meeting with Mr. Feuerstein appeared to violate a federal ethics rule that restricts government officials from meeting with their former private sector colleagues, said Don Fox, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration and, before that, a lawyer in Republican and Democratic administrations.
Mr. Fox described the meeting as improper. “It certainly is going to call into question how that regulation was drafted,” he said. “There’s no way to undo the taint that is now going to be attached to that.”
A yearslong dispute between a pioneering hedge fund and the Internal Revenue Service ended Thursday with an enormous bill for taxes and penalties: as much as $7 billion.
James Simons, a mathematician whose algorithmic approach has been adopted by many other investment funds, and some of his former colleagues at Renaissance Technologies have settled a decade-long dispute with the government over the tax treatment of some of their investments, the firm said in letter to investors.
The settlement, which involves 10 years’ worth of trades made by the hedge fund, could be worth as much as $7 billion, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement. It is one of the largest federal tax disputes in history.
The deal ends a standoff that led to a congressional investigation and involved two politically connected financiers: Mr. Simons, a longtime patron of Democratic candidates with an estimated net worth of $25 billion, and Robert Mercer, a former Renaissance executive whose advocacy for conservative causes included helping to found Cambridge Analytica. After Donald J. Trump won the 2016 presidential election, the now-defunct political consulting firm became embroiled in a scandal for harvesting Facebook data without users’ consent to assist his campaign.
$10 million in Breitbart News, and was a key supporter of Stephen K. Bannon, who was Breitbart’s chairman before becoming Mr. Trump’s chief strategist.
The billions in payments to the I.R.S. will be made by current and former investors in a small group of Renaissance funds, but principally its Medallion fund. Those investors include seven people who were members of the firm’s board between 2005 and 2015, as well as their spouses. Mr. Simons will make a payment of $670 million on top of his obligation as part of that group, according to the letter.
“Renaissance’s board ultimately concluded that the interests of our investors from the relevant period would be best served by agreeing to this resolution with the I.R.S., rather than risking a worse outcome, including harsher terms and penalties, that could result from litigation,” Peter Brown, the firm’s chief executive, wrote.
Renaissance is best known for pioneering a data-intensive form of stock trading called quantitative strategy, which has been adopted by many other hedge funds and trading platforms on Wall Street. The settlement centers on the firm’s Medallion fund, which manages about $15 billion, mostly for employees and former employees of the firm and their family members.
Mr. Simons founded the firm in 1982. Once the head of the math department at Stony Brook University on Long Island, he was a code-breaker for the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. He stepped down from the firm’s day-to-day operations in 2010, handing the reins to Mr. Mercer and Mr. Brown as co-chief executives.
reported that contractors and employees of Cambridge Analytica, eager to sell psychological profiles of American voters to political campaigns, acquired the private Facebook data of tens of millions of users — the largest known leak in the company’s history. Facebook eventually said as many as 87 million users — mostly in the United States — had their data harvested by the firm.
Mr. Mercer’s decision to resign as co-chief of Renaissance shortly after Mr. Trump won the presidency came about in part because of his involvement in bankrolling Cambridge Analytica. Some of the hedge fund’s investors had voiced concerns about Mr. Mercer’s political activities.
The firm’s letter on Thursday said that aside from the board members and their spouses, other investors will be required to pay additional tax and interest owed, but no penalties. Renaissance’s outside clients, who include wealthy individuals, pensions and other investors, are not expected to be affected by the settlement.
The tax dispute involved Medallion’s fast-paced options trading and how those transactions should be taxed — a major consideration given that the firm’s rapid-fire trading had a history of generating big profits.
At the time of the transactions the federal tax rate on long-term capital gains was about half what it was for short-term capital gains. The hedge fund argued that many of its trades were eligible to be taxed at the lower rate because it had converted those options trades into longer-term holdings through the use of complex financial instruments.
These instruments involved baskets of stocks put together by a bank. But Medallion didn’t buy the actual basket of stocks; it instead bought an option on that basket and sometimes gave the banks instructions on how to trade those stocks. Basket options have been criticized for having allowed hedge funds to borrow money more easily and allowing them to make bigger and potentially riskier trades.
The I.R.S. argued that the basket option trades should have been taxed at the higher rate because they were mainly the result of short-term trading.
The disagreement drew the attention of Congress, and led to rule changes. Following a report from the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations, the I.R.S. issued new guidance in 2015 that sought to clamp down on this type of trading by making it more difficult and costly for hedge funds to buy basket options. Such investment vehicles had to be declared on the tax returns of any investor who used them, the agency said.
The I.R.S. had said its guidance on basket options would be retroactive, and applied to all transactions as far back as Jan. 1, 2011.
Still, some senators were critical of the I.R.S. for taking so long to change its rules and start investigating the trading practice, including at Renaissance.
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who headed the Senate committee in 2014 and died in July, said the I.R.S. guidance would stop banks and hedge funds from using “dubious structured financial products” that had cost taxpayers billions.
Elise Bean, a former aide to Mr. Levin, said she wished her former boss had lived to see the settlement. “It’s good to see that, despite a yearslong, knock-down, bare-knuckles battle, the I.R.S. prevailed in compelling at least one set of billionaires to pay the taxes they owe,” she said.
“The advance of the credit reduces the total amount of taxes paid,” said Rob Seltzer, an accountant in Los Angeles. “So there could be a problem with an estimated tax penalty,” depending on how much the taxpayer earns this year compared with last. It may make sense to run a tax projection with a professional to see if it makes sense to opt out.
If you’ve left the country
You need to live in the United States for more than half of 2021 to be eligible for the advanced payments, but expatriate taxpayers can still claim the expanded credit on their return, according to the I.R.S. (The refundable portion of the credit, however, will be curtailed to the prior $1,400 limit.) Military members stationed abroad are still eligible for the advanced payments.
If you rely on a big refund
Some households are simply accustomed to getting a large refund when they file, using it as a forced savings plan. If you have come to depend on a big refund, you can opt out of all future payments and receive the full value of the credit when you file your return next year.
“Opting out or making changes to the payment comes down to personal preference of when and how you want to receive the money,” said Andy Phillips, the director of the Tax Institute at H&R Block. “If you prefer monthly payments of smaller amounts, no need to make changes.”
If you’re still unsure what to do
Sheila Taylor-Clark, a certified public accountant and secretary of the National Society of Black C.P.A.s, has practical advice for clients who don’t necessarily want to opt out but who may be uncertain on where they stand: “Drop that money into an interest-bearing account, so if you owe money you can just send that back next April,” she said.
How to make changes and opt out
To opt out of receiving the payments, taxpayers should visit the Child Tax Credit Update Portal. If you don’t already have an account, you’ll need to create one. And if you’re married and file a joint return, both spouses will need to create accounts and opt out; spouses who don’t opt out will continue to receive half of the advance monthly payment.
Besides stopping the checks, the portal can be used to check the status of your payments; change the bank account receiving them; or to switch your payments to direct deposit from paper checks.
“I think first, this is an economic surrender that other countries are glad to go along with, as long as America is making itself that uncompetitive,” Mr. Brady said. “And secondly, I think there are too many competing interests here for them to finalize a deal that would be agreeable to Congress.”
Other nations must also determine how to turn their commitments into domestic law.
The mechanics of changing how the largest and most profitable companies are taxed, and of making exceptions for financial services, oil and gas businesses, will be central to the discussions. There are already concerns that carve-outs could lead to new tax loopholes.
Ms. Yellen, who is making her second international trip as Treasury secretary, will be holding bilateral meetings with many of her counterparts, including officials from Saudi Arabia, Japan, Turkey and Argentina. China, which signed on to the global minimum tax framework, is not expected to send officials to the gathering of finance ministers and central bank governors, so there will be no discussions between the world’s two largest economic powers.
Mr. Saint-Amans expressed optimism about the trajectory of the tax negotiations, which were on life support during the final year of the Trump administration, and attributed that largely to the new diplomatic approach from the United States.
“It took a U.S. election, and some work at the O.E.C.D.,” he said.
During the panel discussion on tax and climate change, Ms. Yellen’s counterparts said they appreciated the spirit of cooperation from the United States.
Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, said having the United States back at the table working to combat climate change was “welcome” and “transformative.” Mr. Le Maire thanked the Biden administration for rejoining the Paris Agreement.
“The U.S. is back,” he said.
Jim Tankersley contributed reporting from Washington, andLiz Alderman from Paris.
There were two weeks left in the Trump administration when the Treasury Department handed down a set of rules governing an obscure corner of the tax code.
Overseen by a senior Treasury official whose previous job involved helping the wealthy avoid taxes, the new regulations represented a major victory for private equity firms. They ensured that executives in the $4.5 trillion industry, whose leaders often measure their yearly pay in eight or nine figures, could avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes.
The rules were approved on Jan. 5, the day before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hardly anyone noticed.
The Trump administration’s farewell gift to the buyout industry was part of a pattern that has spanned Republican and Democratic presidencies and Congresses: Private equity has conquered the American tax system.
one recent estimate, the United States loses $75 billion a year from investors in partnerships failing to report their income accurately — at least some of which would probably be recovered if the I.R.S. conducted more audits. That’s enough to roughly double annual federal spending on education.
It is also a dramatic understatement of the true cost. It doesn’t include the ever-changing array of maneuvers — often skating the edge of the law — that private equity firms have devised to help their managers avoid income taxes on the roughly $120 billion the industry pays its executives each year.
Private equity’s ability to vanquish the I.R.S., Treasury and Congress goes a long way toward explaining the deep inequities in the U.S. tax system. When it comes to bankrolling the federal government, the richest of America’s rich — many of them hailing from the private equity industry — play by an entirely different set of rules than everyone else.
The result is that men like Blackstone Group’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, who earned more than $610 million last year, can pay federal taxes at rates similar to the average American.
Lawmakers have periodically tried to force private equity to pay more, and the Biden administration has proposed a series of reforms, including enlarging the I.R.S.’s enforcement budget and closing loopholes. The push for reform gained new momentum after ProPublica’s recent revelation that some of America’s richest men paid little or no federal taxes.
nearly $600 million in campaign contributions over the last decade, has repeatedly derailed past efforts to increase its tax burden.
Taylor Swift’s back music catalog.
The industry makes money in two main ways. Firms typically charge their investors a management fee of 2 percent of their assets. And they keep 20 percent of future profits that their investments generate.
That slice of future profits is known as “carried interest.” The term dates at least to the Renaissance. Italian ship captains were compensated in part with an interest in whatever profits were realized on the cargo they carried.
The I.R.S. has long allowed the industry to treat the money it makes from carried interests as capital gains, rather than as ordinary income.
article highlighting the inequity of the tax treatment. It prompted lawmakers from both parties to try to close the so-called carried interest loophole. The on-again, off-again campaign has continued ever since.
Whenever legislation gathers momentum, the private equity industry — joined by real estate, venture capital and other sectors that rely on partnerships — has pumped up campaign contributions and dispatched top executives to Capitol Hill. One bill after another has died, generally without a vote.
An Unexpected Email
One day in 2011, Gregg Polsky, then a professor of tax law at the University of North Carolina, received an out-of-the-blue email. It was from a lawyer for a former private equity executive. The executive had filed a whistle-blower claim with the I.R.S. alleging that their old firm was using illegal tactics to avoid taxes.
The whistle-blower wanted Mr. Polsky’s advice.
Mr. Polsky had previously served as the I.R.S.’s “professor in residence,” and in that role he had developed an expertise in how private equity firms’ vast profits were taxed. Back in academia, he had published a research paper detailing a little-known but pervasive industry tax-dodging technique.
$89 billion in private equity assets — as being “abusive” and a “thinly disguised way of paying the management company its quarterly paycheck.”
Apollo said in a statement that the company stopped using fee waivers in 2012 and is “not aware of any I.R.S. inquiries involving the firm’s use of fee waivers.”
floated the idea of cracking down on carried interest.
Private equity firms mobilized. Blackstone’s lobbying spending increased by nearly a third that year, to $8.5 million. (Matt Anderson, a Blackstone spokesman, said the company’s senior executives “are among the largest individual taxpayers in the country.” He wouldn’t disclose Mr. Schwarzman’s tax rate but said the firm never used fee waivers.)
Lawmakers got cold feet. The initiative fizzled.
In 2015, the Obama administration took a more modest approach. The Treasury Department issued regulations that barred certain types of especially aggressive fee waivers.
But by spelling that out, the new rules codified the legitimacy of fee waivers in general, which until that point many experts had viewed as abusive on their face.
So did his predecessor in the Obama administration, Timothy F. Geithner.
Inside the I.R.S. — which lost about one-third of its agents and officers from 2008 to 2018 — many viewed private equity’s webs of interlocking partnerships as designed to befuddle auditors and dodge taxes.
One I.R.S. agent complained that “income is pushed down so many tiers, you are never able to find out where the real problems or duplication of deductions exist,” according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation of partnerships in 2014. Another agent said the purpose of large partnerships seemed to be making “it difficult to identify income sources and tax shelters.”
The Times reviewed 10 years of annual reports filed by the five largest publicly traded private equity firms. They contained no trace of the firms ever having to pay the I.R.S. extra money, and they referred to only minor audits that they said were unlikely to affect their finances.
Current and former I.R.S. officials said in interviews that such audits generally involved issues like firms’ accounting for travel costs, rather than major reckonings over their taxable profits. The officials said they were unaware of any recent significant audits of private equity firms.
No Money Owed
For a while, it looked as if there would be an exception to this general rule: the I.R.S.’s reviews of the fee waivers spurred by the whistle-blower claims. But it soon became clear that the effort lacked teeth.
Kat Gregor, a tax lawyer at the law firm Ropes & Gray, said the I.R.S. had challenged fee waivers used by four of her clients, whom she wouldn’t identify. The auditors struck her as untrained in the thicket of tax laws governing partnerships.
“It’s the equivalent of picking someone who was used to conducting an interview in English and tell them to go do it in Spanish,” Ms. Gregor said.
The audits of her clients wrapped up in late 2019. None owed any money.
The Mnuchin Compromise
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to “eliminate the carried interest deduction, well-known deduction, and other special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors, and for people like me, but unfair to American workers.”
wanted to close the loophole, congressional Republicans resisted. Instead, they embraced a much milder measure: requiring private equity officials to hold their investments for at least three years before reaping preferential tax treatment on their carried interests. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who had previously run an investment partnership, signed off.
McKinsey, typically holds investments for more than five years. The measure, part of a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, was projected to generate $1 billion in revenue over a decade.
credited Mr. Mnuchin, hailing him as “an all-star.”
Mr. Fleischer, who a decade earlier had raised alarms about carried interest, said the measure “was structured by industry to appear to do something while affecting as few as possible.”
Months later, Mr. Callas joined the law and lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson. The private equity giant Carlyle is one of his biggest clients.
‘The Government Caved’
It took the Treasury Department more than two years to propose rules spelling out the fine print of the 2017 law. The Treasury’s suggested language was strict. One proposal would have empowered I.R.S. auditors to more closely examine internal transactions that private equity firms might use to get around the law’s three-year holding period.
The industry, so happy with the tepid 2017 law, was up in arms over the tough rules the Treasury’s staff was now proposing. In a letter in October 2020, the American Investment Council, led by Drew Maloney, a former aide to Mr. Mnuchin, noted how private equity had invested in hundreds of companies during the coronavirus pandemic and said the Treasury’s overzealous approach would harm the industry.
The rules were the responsibility of Treasury’s top tax official, David Kautter. He previously was the national tax director at EY, formerly Ernst & Young, when the firm was marketing illegal tax shelters that led to a federal criminal investigation and a $123 million settlement. (Mr. Kautter has denied being involved with selling the shelters but has expressed regret about not speaking up about them.)
On his watch at Treasury, the rules under development began getting softer, including when it came to the three-year holding period.
Monte Jackel, a former I.R.S. attorney who worked on the original version of the proposed regulations.
Mr. Mnuchin, back in the private sector, is starting an investment fund that could benefit from his department’s weaker rules.
A Charmed March
Even during the pandemic, the charmed march of private equity continued.
The top five publicly traded firms reported net profits last year of $8.6 billion. They paid their executives $8.3 billion. In addition to Mr. Schwarzman’s $610 million, the co-founders of KKR each made about $90 million, and Apollo’s Leon Black received $211 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm.
now advising clients on techniques to circumvent the three-year holding period.
The most popular is known as a “carry waiver.” It enables private equity managers to hold their carried interests for less than three years without paying higher tax rates. The technique is complicated, but it involves temporarily moving money into other investment vehicles. That provides the industry with greater flexibility to buy and sell things whenever it wants, without triggering a higher tax rate.
Private equity firms don’t broadcast this. But there are clues. In a recent presentation to a Pennsylvania retirement system by Hellman & Friedman, the California private equity giant included a string of disclaimers in small font. The last one flagged the firm’s use of carry waivers.
The Biden administration is negotiating its tax overhaul agenda with Republicans, who have aired advertisements attacking the proposal to increase the I.R.S.’s budget. The White House is already backing down from some of its most ambitious proposals.
Even if the agency’s budget were significantly expanded, veterans of the I.R.S. doubt it would make much difference when it comes to scrutinizing complex partnerships.
“If the I.R.S. started staffing up now, it would take them at least a decade to catch up,” Mr. Jackel said. “They don’t have enough I.R.S. agents with enough knowledge to know what they are looking at. They areso grossly overmatched it’s not funny.”
LONDON — The top economic officials from the world’s advanced economies reached a breakthrough on Saturday in their yearslong efforts to overhaul international tax laws, unveiling a broad agreement that aims to stop large multinational companies from seeking out tax havens and force them to pay more of their income to governments.
Finance leaders from the Group of 7 countries agreed to back a new global minimum tax rate of at least 15 percent that companies would have to pay regardless of where they locate their headquarters.
The agreement would also impose an additional tax on some of the largest multinational companies, potentially forcing technology giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google as well as other big global businesses to pay taxes to countries based on where their goods or services are sold, regardless of whether they have a physical presence in that nation.
Officials described the pact as a historic agreement that could reshape global commerce and solidify public finances that have been eroded after more than a year of combating the coronavirus pandemic. The deal comes after several years of fraught negotiations and, if enacted, would reverse a race to the bottom on international tax rates. It would also put to rest a fight between the United States and Europe over how to tax big technology companies.
has been particularly eager to reach an agreement because a global minimum tax is closely tied to its plans to raise the corporate tax rate in the United States to 28 percent from 21 percent to help pay for the president’s infrastructure proposal.
EU Tax Observatory estimated that a 15 percent minimum tax would yield an additional 48 billion euros, or $58 billion, a year. The Biden administration projected in its budget last month that the new global minimum tax system could help bring in $500 billion in tax revenue over a decade to the United States.
The plan could face resistance from large corporations and the world’s biggest companies were absorbing the development on Saturday.
“We strongly support the work being done to update international tax rules,” said José Castañeda, a Google spokesman. “We hope countries continue to work together to ensure a balanced and durable agreement will be finalized soon.”
said this month that it was prepared to move forward with tariffs on about $2.1 billion worth of goods from Austria, Britain, India, Italy, Spain and Turkey in retaliation for their digital taxes. However, it is keeping them on hold while the tax negotiations unfold.
Finishing such a large agreement by the end of the year could be overly optimistic given the number of moving parts and countries involved.
“A detailed agreement on something of this complexity in a few months would just be lighting speed,” said Nathan Sheets, a former Treasury Department under secretary for international affairs in the Obama administration.
The biggest obstacle to getting a deal finished could come from the United States. The Biden administration must win approval from a narrowly divided Congress to make changes to the tax code and Republicans have shown resistance to Mr. Biden’s plans. American businesses will bear the brunt of the new taxes and Republican lawmakers have argued that the White House is ceding tax authority to foreign countries.
Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said on Friday that he did not believe that a 15 percent global minimum tax would curb offshoring.
“If the American corporate tax rate is 28 percent, and the global tax rate is merely half of that, you can guarantee we’ll see a second wave of U.S. investment research manufacturing hit overseas, that’s not what we want,” Mr. Brady said.
At the news conference, Ms. Yellen noted that top Democrats in the House and Senate had expressed support for the tax changes that the Biden administration was trying to make.
Can I, err, forget to mention my plans to my boss?
It’s risky. Employers need to know where their employees work in case their presence leads to corporate tax obligations abroad. The risk is higher when employees are bringing in revenue for companies, such as in sales positions, said David McKeegan, who co-founded Greenback Tax Services, an accounting firm for U.S. expatriates.
Today in Business
Still, many companies are operating on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. A science writer in his 50s from California, who was granted anonymity because he did not want senior managers to know he had worked from Costa Rica for a few months, said his human resources department discouraged employees from working outside of California, but did not say anything explicit about working abroad. His setup from an Airbnb by the beach worked perfectly until he lost power because of a hurricane and had to work from a bar a few times. He used his company’s Zoom background, but colleagues started asking about where he was when they heard ocean waves and music. “At a restaurant,” he would tell them, without elaborating.
As more people work from abroad, it may be harder for companies to turn a blind eye. About 10.9 million Americans last year described themselves as digital nomads — people who work remotely and tend to travel from place to place — up from 7.3 million in 2019, according to MBO Partners, which provides services for self-employed workers.
“The tax system globally right now is not prepared for what the work force is going through,” Mr. McKeegan said. “I think at some point we’ll see a system where people are asked on the way in or out if they were working and countries will try and get some more tax revenue from this very mobile work force.”
I want to work remotely while abroad for longer than just a few months. Can I avoid paying U.S. tax altogether?
Potentially. If you qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, your first $108,700 is exempt from U.S. income tax. But keep in mind that this applies only if you’re a U.S. citizen who resides in a foreign country for more than 330 days within 12 consecutive months, not including time on planes, or if you are a bona fide resident of a foreign country. (You would still have to pay federal and state taxes on unearned income including interest, dividends and capital gains.)
It is important to track the number of days abroad to be able to prove to U.S. tax authorities that you were there.
Paige Brunton, 30, a Canadian website designer based in Hannover, Germany, learned about how complicated the tax rules are for expats the hard way: One year, she had to file tax returns in three countries. The situation was unavoidable, since she had lived and worked in Germany, Canada and the United States during that tax year, but her biggest advice for others who may have complicated situations is to get an accountant who specializes in international tax right away.
“Don’t congregate in Facebook groups and Google, it’ll really stress you out,” she said.
Good morning and happy Sunday. Here’s what you need to know in business and tech news for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles
had a rough week. Digital currencies saw several ugly crashes, with Bitcoin ending Friday nearly 30 percent below its price a week before. The plunge followed an announcement from China that effectively banned its financial institutions from providing services related to cryptocurrency transactions. (Elon Musk’s sudden about-face on Bitcoin probably didn’t help, either.) The volatility shook some investors’ confidence in crypto, which has ridden a seemingly unstoppable wave of popularity — and gained traction with mainstream investors — over the past year.
Texas, Oklahoma and Indiana joined more than a dozen other states that are ending federal pandemic unemployment benefits early, citing the need to incentivize people to get back to work. The decision will get rid of the $300-a-week supplement that unemployment recipients have been getting since March and were scheduled to receive through September. It will also end all benefits for freelancers, part-timers and those who have been out of work for more than six months. Some lawmakers believe that cutting off benefits will encourage more people to apply for jobs, but that’s not always the case — a persistent lack of child care has also prevented many parents from returning to work.
can cause premature death, according to a new study by the World Health Organization. Long hours — also known as overwork — are on the rise and are associated with an estimated 35 percent higher risk of stroke and 17 percent higher risk of heart disease compared with working 35 to 40 hours per week, researchers said.
give the Internal Revenue Service more money to chase down wealthy individuals and companies who cheat on their taxes. As part of the same effort to close tax loopholes, the U.S. Treasury Department is trying to convince other countries to back a 15 percent global minimum tax rate on big companies. The policy is meant to deter corporations from sheltering their operations in tax havens such as Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands. But a number of governments have been hesitant to sign on for fear that they’ll scare off businesses.
Eyeing the Competition
Congress wants to bolster the United States’ ability to compete with China and is willing to throw money at the problem. The senate is working on a bill that would invest $120 billion in the nation’s development of cutting-edge technology and manufacturing. Known as the Endless Frontier Act, the legislation would fund new research on a scale that its proponents say has not been seen since the Cold War. In related news, the European Union blocked an investment deal with China on Thursday, citing concerns with the country’s abysmal human rights record.
C.E.O.s in the Hot Seat
Executives from the largest U.S. banks, including JPMorgan, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, will testify before lawmakers this week about their actions (or lack thereof) to help struggling Americans and small businesses during the pandemic. Democrats on the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees organized the hearings to scrutinize the banks’ role in lending money to alleviate the financial pressures of the past 15 months. The testimony could affect how lawmakers seek to regulate Wall Street in the coming years.
soared 30 percent in its initial public offering on Wednesday. Amazon indefinitely extended its ban on police usage of its facial recognition software, which has faced ethical criticism. And New York City lifted nearly all of its pandemic restrictions, allowing businesses to welcome customers back at full capacity.