A group of 60 demonstrators unfurled a banner and made noise inside the North Michigan Avenue (Chicago) last week, allegedly part of a grassroots effort to require corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, but more likely a politically-backed movement to prevent government spending cuts that would lay off union members. The demonstrators from Fair Economy Illinois were in the store for several minutes, but shortly after Chicago police arrived they moved outside to the sidewalk to continue their protest. The protest is part of on-going Apple store visits by special interest groups using the company’s retail presence to bring attention to political issues. As reported by the ChicagoIST Web site, two Illinois state legislators joined the Chicago demonstration, saying they support a bill that would require corporations doing business in Illinois to be more transparent in their financial reporting. Although the protest group identified itself as Fair Economy Illinois, the leader of the group is a professional activist linked to several other Chicago area organizations that support a wide variety of causes related to labor, education, health care and infrastructure. The demonstration is similar to one at the San Francisco store in May 2011 organized by a group calling itself US Uncut, an off-shoot of a UK-based tax protest group. That group claimed to be “grassroots,” or citizen-based. However, information about the group’s leader linked him to paid lobbying activities.
It is common to disguise political lobbying as a grassroots, citizen-originated movement in order to obscure the identities and motives of the actual interested parties. Most current corporate tax-based protests originate from those most affected—government employees paid from the tax rolls, and their labor unions. Huge protests in Wisconsin in 2011 were focused on legislation to trim the state budget and curtail the right of state employees to collectively bargain. The bills were vigorously opposed by labor unions, and spawned protests in other states.
Fair Economy Illinois seems to have been formed recently, in the aftermath of the Congressional tax hearings that featured testimony by Apple CEO Tim Cook. The group’s criticism of Apple duplicates the information obtained and presented by a U.S. Congressional subcommittee last May. In general, they complain that Apple, “paid virtually nothing in taxes to any country.” They do acknowledge that Apple paid $6 billion in 2012 taxes. But they point out that the company, “shifted $36 billion in worldwide sales income away from the United States and avoided $9 billion in U.S. taxes that year.”
The group does not have any overt political party affiliation. However, one page of their Web site asks the question, “Why would democrats oppose tax transparency?” and asks Illinois Democrats to support proposed legislation.
The common element among Fair Economy Illinois and the other groups seems to be David Hatch (right), a long-time, 58 year-old activist. The group’s Web site was registered to him last March. The Internet record indicates Hatch is affiliated with the “IIRON Education Fund,” the Illinois-Indiana Regional Organizing Network. In fact, he’s the executive director of the Fund.
Through IIRON, Hatch is affiliated with many other older activist organizations: Make Wall Street Pay, Aurora Area Religious Organized Network, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), Illinois People’s Action, Northside P.O.W.E.R., Metropolitan Alliance of Congregations, Alliance for a Just Society and Joliet Area Churches Organized Body (JACOB). On the Web sites for many of the groups, they list one aother as “members.”
There is no public link between Hatch and any labor union. However, Fair Economy Illinois shares an address with another activist group, The People’s Lobby (TPL). Hatch is also executive director of that group. TPL is registered with the Illinois Secretary of State as a political lobbying organization, and claims federal 501(c)(4) tax status. It’s unknown if Hatch is paid for either of his executive director positions.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) defines 501(c)(4) groups as “Civic Leagues and Social Welfare Organizations.” Donations to the groups generally do not qualify as tax exempt, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations state. Further, the tax status, “does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” However, exemptions can be granted. In fact, there were recent revelations that IRS employees were deliberately withholding exemption approvals for certain targeted groups that were claiming 501(c)(4) status.
Besides the Chicago demonstration, there were visits to several stores last weekend by members of Friends of the Earth, who attached “Do I trash forests?” paper tags to product cables. The group is spotlighting tin mining in Indonesia, and its adverse effects on the environment. The group claims that an Apple iPad contains 1.3 grams of tin as a component of the electronics boards.