Martin Roe /Retna Ltd./Corbis
Eduardo Saverin, a Facebook co-founder, renounced his U.S. citizenship just before the company's $16 billion IPO, in what is widely seen as an attempt to avoid paying taxes. The Brazilian-born Saverin, who became an American citizen in 1992, is being lambasted for ingratitude, with many saying he could not have made his billions without the opportunities afforded him in America. Democratic senators have introduced legislation, dubbed the Ex-Patriot Act, that would force similar tax dodgers to pay a 30 percent tax rate on their U.S. assets and bar them from re-entering the country. Some Republicans, like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), have also denounced Saverin, but notable conservatives, including anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist and The Wall Street Journal editorial board, are slamming Democrats for behaving like Nazis and Communists. What should we make of this controversy?
For conservatives, the enemy is the U.S. tax code: Saverin's decision to become a citizen of low-tax Singapore reeks of opportunism, says Jay Bookman at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But anti-tax ideologues in the conservative movement are claiming that "the United States is simply getting what it deserves for not cutting taxes on the wealthy even lower than they are today." Conservatives don't seem to realize that the U.S. "cannot be a country in which it is possible to create a behemoth such as Facebook and also be a country in which regulation and overtaxation have made it impossible to succeed. Both things cannot be true."
"Facebook, patriotism, taxes, and fair play"
This is a political loser for Republicans: "Tax fairness is a central theme for Democrats" this election season, and the Ex-Patriot Act is "an easy opportunity for Democrats to return to that broad theme," says Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo. Conservative denunciation of the Democrats' legislation "is putting Republican leaders in a politically precarious situation," and could force them to "oppose punishing wealthy Americans who renounce their citizenship to duck their legal obligations."
"Conservatives liken Dems' bill banning citizenship tax-dodging to Nazis, Soviets"
But the Democratic bill is legally dubious: The Ex-Patriot Act's Democratic sponsors, Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Bob Casey (Penn.), "are showing themselves to be irresponsible legislators by introducing a bill that they explicitly conceived in order to punish" Saverin, says Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. Saverin may deserve our scorn, but "it is imprudent to impulsively introduce legislation in order to target a specific high-profile individual who happens to be making news," especially for actions that were perfectly legal beforehand. The senators are effectively conducting a trial by legislature, and "it's an affront to the rule of law."
"Why the Ex-Patriot Act is a creepy law"