Tax Justice Network article on Bono: legit indictment or cynical hit job?

An organization calling itself “Tax Justice Network USA” has launched a rather nasty shot at U2 front man Bono (Paul Hewson), calling him a “draft dodger.” I’m all for tax fairness – whatever that may be – but this has the look, smell and texture of a hit job, and if I take what they’re telling me at face value, you’re a draft dodger, too, if you work to claim every deduction and break legally available to you.

But let’s examine the article a bit, because there are issues I need addressed:

1. Is Bono breaking any laws or is he merely taking best advantage of the laws as they’re currently constructed? It seems from the article like it’s the latter, but the author seems to want me to believe that if you promote charitable causes you have an obligation to pay as much in taxes as humanly possible. That, of course, is overripe bullshit, and the fact that all the damage is done via implication tells us something important about the writer.

2. There is, however, a fair question about hypocrisy: is Bono advocating a standard that he is unwilling to live by? Again, we have no evidence that this is true, but the writer wants us to believe it, anyway. The answer boils down to whether or not Bono is contributing his fair share. That is, if his fair tax burden were $X and he managed to shelter the bill down to $½X, we might be okay with a bit of criticism. Unless his overall charitable giving added up to, say, $4X, in which case somebody needs to shut up, step off and sit down. Taxes are the means, not the ends. If the ends are met and a fair portion of funds flows to the right places, I don’t personally care whether he paid a cent in taxes. This may not be a satisfactory answer for the IRS guy doing the audit, but from a moral perspective it’s fine with me.

3. To this last bit I’d also broaden the scope to include contributions of time and the eventual results of his efforts. If a person who earns $X an hour and can get work at that rate at will spends 100 hours on a charitable enterprise, then that looks to me like $100X in contributions. Further, if those hours lead to contributions by others – say Rockstar Blogger Sam Smith gets Bill Gates and Oprah and Rupert Murdoch and a few other brazilianaires to pony up $1M apiece – then do we really need to hear about how he’s a hypocrite and a tax dodger?

There may be a real criticism lurking beneath this dog-and-pony post and if so I want to hear it. Just because Bono fronts the greatest band in the world today doesn’t mean I think he’s infallible. But if there is a legit criticism it’s impossible to see from this article.

So maybe the Tax Justice Network can provide us with some actual substance – either that or a look at the tax returns of all their people so we can see where they didn’t claim every deduction they were legally entitled to, as well.

20 replies »

  1. Everyone should pay their fair share of taxes. Taxing at the rate of 98% on moneys earned above 100,000 pounds isn’t taxation – it’s robbery.

    That’s what Bono would have faced in Great Britain. One can’t blame him for wanting to avoid such preposterous punishment for being successful. Oh, and Jagger and company moved their holdings to Monaco and the Bahamas in the 1970’s for exactly this reason. Unfair taxation is unfair.

    However, if Bono used the creative artists’ tax breaks ( and the law was clearly meant to help artists struggling to survive) unjustly, he ought to be criticized for such abuse. There has been, for exaple, considerable criticism of INXS, Midnight Oil and other Australian bands who’ve used a similar law as a loophole.

    So, more info about Bono’s business dealings – and whether he weaseled on the law or acted hypocritically – is needed before anyone should accept these wild claims….

  2. you probably want to withdraw the draft dodger comment. unless you are averse to the argument that bush and the other chickenhawks who worked every angle to avoid going to the war they ‘supported’ are in fact draft dodgers as well.

  3. Thirty years ago, I said the motto of the United States should be changed to read: “Women and draft dodgers first.” Since then, I’ve seen nothing to change my mind; I really do think I got it right the first time.

    If Bono is a draft dodger, he’s in some pretty good (a loosely used term at this point) company. Several prominent political figures should add the “draft dodger” tagline to their resumes.

    The question isn’t so much whether someone was or was not a draft dodger as what they did later. While I have no love lost for liberals, I have much more respect for someone consistent in their beliefs than I have for former draft dodgers who wrapped themselves in the American flag while stabbing veterans in the back.

  4. Slightly different case on the Bush issue. I’d have used every option to avoid Vietnam, too. But having done that, I wouldn’t be making myself out to be George Patton, either. Hypocrisy is the issue there.

    And if Bono is using every shelter in sight and campaigning to have my loopholes closed, then we have a serious problem.

  5. And I don’t despise Bono because he may or may not dodge taxes. I despise Bono because he’s turned poverty into entertainment, has only the most populist and shallow understanding of the issues, and is – through his actions – perpetuating poverty. To whit, previous articles πŸ˜‰

  6. Even if I buy that Bono has done the wrong things, he has clearly done them for the right reasons, for whatever that’s worth. While a lot of rockers have gotten rich and retreated into a cocoon, Bono has made it a point to campaign actively and noisily for things he believes in.

    I’ve followed his career for a very long time, and while I can critique his methods and his results, I see no way to challenge his integrity.

  7. Not everyone would agree with you, probably, but when you have no money you better hang on tight to your good name…. πŸ™‚

  8. I have no problem with Bono taking advantage of whatever legal loopholes might exist, to reduce his taxes. I use whatever legal means I can, to reduce my taxes. In fact, I consider it a sport…..but then again, I’m easily amused.



  9. Bono is a fraud because he says that American taxpayers (and taxpayers of other nations) must give more of their money to Africa while he maneuvers to pay less in taxes. Bono enriches himself at the expense of taxpayers in his homeland, whom he says should give more to Africa.

    Oh yeah, Bono’s New York apartment cost him $15 million in 2003. How many poor Africans could be fed and vaccinated with the money he spends on lavish housing?

  10. First of all, the legality of Bono’s tax avoidance scheme and the morality of it are, IMHO, two separate issues. The law is basically about enforcing the absolute minimal standards of Human Conduct. The law is not – nor should it be construed as – a moral guidepost, unless you want your ethics to be of the Lowest Common Denominator. Morality occupies a far more exalted plain, and that is where discussions of Hypocrisy and Integrity reside.

    For the sake of accuracy, Bono and U2 were never quartered in the UK, they were quartered in Dublin, which is in the south of Ireland, and is independent. Secondly, Ireland does support its artists and writers with hefty tax breaks (which is one reason you see such irreplaceable literary treasures such as Dawn Steele making her home there).

    What U2 did was relocate their business operations to the Netherlands to take advantage of further tax breaks.

    Fine and dandy from a legal point of view, but, when your lead singer makes a grand show of exhorting First World Nations to forgive crippling debts incurred by Developing Nations (a move I personally support, btw) and then takes measures unavailable to most of us to shelter his own considerable assets from becoming part of the revenue stream which would finance this forgiveness, it makes me wonder if perhaps he feels that this debt forgiveness is a task best left to those of us of the Great Unwashed.

    I should point out that those of us who support programs like Debt Forgiveness for Developing Nations are also many times the kind of folks who volunteer their time and share their resources and while I can’t guarantee 10,000 paying attendees the next time I drop off furniture and household items at the local thrift shop, or send a modest check off the another worthy effort, I do try and do my part. And when I do my part, it DOES represent forgoing something else.

    Further, Bono is part of an investment consortium that recently took a significant position in Forbes Publishing. Within several months of that, it was announced the that company would be abolishing its Pension Plan for those not already vested. Replacing it would be an employee stock purchase plan. Oh yes, we know all about those! When everyone owns a piece of the company, they work extra hard, don’t they? And the company does well and everyone benefits. Except that the employees who most need a Retirement Plan are rarely the same ones who formulate the company’s Business Strategy. So if the top execs make sound decisions, everyone benefits. And if they don’t, well, if you haven’t squirreled away lots of assets (or you’ve had the bad judgement to place them all in company stock) you’re SOL.

    So, while I don’t at all begrudge Bono his expansive pieds a terre, or any other luxuries he affords himself, and I do think he’s done a valuable service in getting the word out about a variety of issues, I do think these two recent business decisions evince a rather shallow understanding of how the world works for most of us. It’s a great thing to tour a refugee camp or orphanage and then recount your experiences there in front of a summit of World Leaders – all of whom are interested not only in your impressions, but in having their picture taken with you after the meeting.

    But it’s helpful also to understand the struggles faced by those of us who do want to help but must also try to keep from ending up in a Homeless Shelter here in our own country or dining on dogfood in our dotage.

    Sorry, but as much as I’ve always admired the man and his music, I would have to vote “Hypocrite” at this juncture.

  11. This is fine, except that it ignores my second and third points. I’m more than willing to concede, for reasons you make really clear, that this doesn’t look really good for Bono, and we live in a world that actually seems to believe that “perception is reality” is a statement of natural law.

    But there is a deeper reality that we can’t see here – how much money has Bono been responsible for generating for these causes and how does that number weigh against the taxes he’s managed to dodge?

    I suspect his actual tax debt, without any shelters at all, is a fraction of what he’s generated through his public activities. If I’m right, I really don’t much give a damn about his tax avoidance activities.

  12. Wouldn’t that help Bono’s image? I always hated the guy, and the fact that he’s not paying taxes kinda makes him Willie Nelson-ish. Way to stick it to the man Bono!

    I’m just joking, I still hate the guy.

  13. Sorry about butting in so late in the debate – but for the sake of accuracy, Bono’s tax liability would have arisen in Ireland not the UK, and the highest income tax rate in the UK is 40 per cent, not 98 per cent — those high end marginal tax rates were abolished decades ago. Please try to keep up at the back of the class.

    best wishes to all