Members of Fair Economy Illinois took aim at corporate "tax dodgers" during a Monday afternoon protest outside Exelon's Chicago offices. Activists danced the Electric Slide in the street, and 10 protesters were ultimately arrested after they sat down in a downtown intersection and refused to move.
Ten people with the Fair Economy Illinois coalition were arrested Monday afternoon outside Exelon's downtown Chicago offices during a protest against corporate "tax dodgers."
Fair Economy Illinois activists danced the Electric Slide in the intersection of Dearborn and Madison Streets. Ten people from the group were arrested after they sat down in the intersection with their arms linked and refused police orders to move.
Demonstrators called on Exelon and its affiliate ComEd to pay their "fair share" in taxes. Protesters toted signs reading, "Human Need Not Corporate Greed" and "Stop Illinois' Electric Slide Into Ruin."
Activists urged state policymakers to enact progressive revenue options to shore up the state's finances.
"We're looking at a statewide absence of revenue, so we are targeting two-thirds of the largest corporations that are avoiding taxes," said Anthony Quezada, a leader with Fair Economy Illinois and The People's Lobby.
Here are scenes from the protest:
The protest was part of the Moral Mondays Illinois movement. Activists targeted the utility companies in response to findings in a recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). The left-leaning think tank's report examined the federal and state income taxes paid by profitable public U.S. utility companies.
The IPS report, released last month, reviewed 40 publicly held U.S. utility companies that were profitable in 2015, finding that the firms collectively earned $43.9 billion in pre-tax profits last year and paid $1.6 billion in federal and state income taxes.
Twenty-three companies paid no federal income taxes in 2015 and 16 paid no state income taxes that year, according to IPS.
In a press release, Fair Economy Illinois cited the report findings, explaining that "multiple corporate tax loopholes allowed ComEd, a corporation with pre-tax profits of more than $706 million in 2015, to dodge $47.7 million in corporate income taxes to the State of Illinois."
"Additionally, Exelon, whose pre-tax profits were $3.3 billion in 2015, paid -$86 million in state taxes in the five states in which it operates, meaning they received more in state tax credits than they paid in taxes," Fair Economy Illinois added. "If they'd paid the full rates, they would've paid a total of $377 million in state taxes."
The utility companies cited in the report avoided income taxes largely through accelerated depreciation tax rules, which "allow corporations to write off the cost of their investments faster than they wear out," according to IPS.
Kristi Sanford, a spokeswoman for Fair Economy Illinois, said Monday's protest was meant to highlight one particular corporate tax "loophole" that activists want closed.
"These corporations are wildly profitable," she said. "We actually need people to pay their fair share -- like right now ... If they pay (taxes) five years from now or 10 years from now, it doesn't really help us right now."
Fair Economy Illinois wants lawmakers to take up their "People and Planet First Budget" plan, which seeks to raise $23 billion in annual state revenue by enacting a graduated income tax, closing various corporate tax loopholes and passing a LaSalle Street tax on financial transactions.
Activists say the revenue could be invested in education, health care, infrastructure, human services, public pensions and green energy development
Jason Gonzales, who lost to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in the primary election, was at the protest.
In an interview with Progress Illinois, Gonzales blasted Madigan for "participating in the ability for companies like Exelon and others to dodge their tax responsibility."
"I believe Exelon and others need to pay their fair share," Gonzales said.
Asked whether he has any plans to run again, Gonzales said: "I haven't really decided yet. Honestly, I'm still mulling my political future, but I'm not leaving politics."
Exelon did not return Progress Illinois' request for comment by deadline.
UPDATE (3:40 p.m.): Exelon and ComEd released the following statement in response to Fair Economy Illinois' protest:
Exelon pays our fair share of taxes to the state, and suggestions to the contrary are simply false. Including ComEd, Exelon has more than 12,000 employees in Illinois and is the ninth largest company in the state. We rank among the state's largest taxpayers, paying $456 million in state and local taxes in 2015. Exelon has made its headquarters in Chicago since its founding and is a major economic engine for the state, investing billions of dollars annually to ensure the Illinois economy is powered by clean, reliable energy. These investments, along with our significant contributions to nonprofit institutions across the state, support thousands of additional jobs in Illinois. Being a good corporate citizen is among our core values, and that includes paying our fair share of taxes to support schools, government agencies and other services that benefit our customers and communities.
Regarding ComEd specifically, today's protestors misunderstand the impact of tax policies to utility customers. Thanks to the regulated process by which rates in Illinois are set each year, it is ComEd's customers who benefit from tax decreases, not ComEd. ComEd's tax decreases are reflected in customer bills.