David Cay Johnston

David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, now retired from The New York Times. He is co-founder of DCReport.org, which covers what Trump does, not what he tweets.

Recent Articles

Tax Evasion Exposed

Senator Carl Levin was the Senate's exemplary investigator of corporate tax scams. 

AP Photo/Evan Vucci A lot of what we know about tax avoidance and evasion is courtesy of Senator Carl Levin's work as chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Financial Exposure: Carl Levin's Senate Investigations into Finance and Tax Abuse By Elise J. Bean Palgrave Macmillan This article appears in the Fall 2018 issue of The American Prospect. Subscribe here . Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who retired in 2015, was one of the Senate’s legendary workhorse progressives. He used his chairmanship of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to probe the corruption of American capitalism as enabled by feeble or complicit government policies. One of his prime subjects was tax evasion. Indeed, a lot of what we know about techniques of tax avoidance and evasion is courtesy of Levin’s work and that of his staff. For 15 years, Elise Bean, a lawyer educated at the University of Michigan, worked as an investigator and then staff director and chief counsel for...

Demonizing the IRS to Protect Tax Evaders

Weakening tax enforcement combined with new complexity invites evasion and massive illicit tax savings for the rich.

tax_fraud.jpg This article appears in the Summer 2018 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . For decades, Republicans have pounded the Internal Revenue Service, initially on the advice of pollster Frank Luntz, whose focus group interviews revealed that exploiting popular resentment of taxes and widespread fear of getting tripped up by the worsening complexity of tax law is an easy way to win votes. Taking this advice, the party that claims the mantle of law and order set out to demonize the tax police. At the same time, Congress has enacted bill after bill that makes the Internal Revenue Code ever more maddeningly complex through devices that overwhelmingly benefit the political donor class—which is to say the wealthiest among us, and the corporations they own or control. Worse, the complicated new Trump tax law pretends to require such companies as Apple, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft to pay huge tax bills. However, the fine print gives them discounts of up to...

The Legacy of Carl Levin

Corporate America will cheer the Michigan senator’s retirement. His investigations have flagged hundreds of billions in offshore tax evasion.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
This article was published in the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine . For 15 years, Senator Carl Levin has taught Americans how our tax system really works. Hearings by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), which he heads, have exposed modern accounting alchemy that turns the black ink of domestic profits into the red ink of tax-deductible expenses. Levin has shown how profits can be shipped tax-free to the Cayman Islands and, amazingly, how Apple figured out that profits booked in Ireland could be hidden from tax authorities of both Ireland and the United States in a cloak of invisibility. He exposed tax favors that were supposed to create jobs but ended up destroying them. He made Swiss bankers who solicited tax evasion on American soil squirm, destroying their claims that criminal conduct was the work of rogue bankers. The senior senator from Michigan revealed that Goldman Sachs sold clients securities that it then bet would fail, eliciting eye-...

Too Big to Fail. Not Too Strong.

Nomi Prins’s new book traces America’s propping up of banks since the robber barons.

From Andrew Mellon’s nearly 11 years as Treasury secretary under Presidents Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover to our time, when Timothy Geithner went from financial regulator at the New York Federal Reserve to Treasury secretary to investment executive, journalists have often employed the image of a revolving door to describe the flow of bankers between Wall Street and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. But few know that the White House and the Treasury are, arguably, a single building. A tunnel connects 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue with 1600. Presidents use this passageway to slip visitors in and out of the Oval Office. prinstall.jpg Nomi Prins, in her new history All the Presidents’ Bankers , does not say it in so many words. But she shows that the tunnel from the White House to the Treasury extends, metaphorically, for 226 miles to Lower Manhattan. Prins digs into presidential libraries and national archives and mines a shelf of books. She also knows...

We Shall Overwhelm

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite Four years ago, the modern Tea Party seemed to emerge from nowhere, leaving journalists bewildered and the public with few reference points to understand seemingly spontaneous rallies by middle-class people seeking lower tax rates. A search for the phrase “tea party” in connection with “politics” in major newspapers yielded fewer than 100 mentions in 2008—and when the words did appear linked together, they suggested studied formality and decorum. The next year, they appeared more than 1,500 times, often connected to “protest demonstration.” But little was spontaneous about the new party. “Social movements that explicitly defend the interests of the rich and the almost-rich have been a recurring feature of American politics,” Isaac William Martin, a sociologist at the University of California, San Diego, reminds us in his new book, Rich People’s Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One...

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