> Walmart denied any wrongdoing. “The transactions brought to our attention were appropriately reported to and audited by the IRS”
I'm not a tax accountant but I used to work at a F500 public corporation and once ended up sitting next to one of the senior finance execs at a group dinner. A similar article had recently come out morally lambasting a peer company of ours and I asked about it. I learned some things I didn't know.
* Large public corporations like ours (and certainly Walmart) are usually audited by the IRS every single year because the potential ROI to the IRS is so high. The potential windfall of increasing a big corp's taxes by 1% is vastly superior to catching a thousand regular joe cheaters for 50%. Auditing regular 1040 filers is a pure expense for the IRS. They never recoup what it costs and they only do it to establish a deterrent. On the other hand, auditing big corps is a consistent revenue source.
* There are hundreds of people involved in a large corp's tax strategy including multiple outside accounting firms who are as beholden to the IRS as much as they are to their corporate customer. Everything is planned in detail, projected during quarterly budgeting and then carefully reviewed. There is no concept of "cheating" in the sense of keeping a secret you hope the IRS doesn't discover. Instead, it's all about which deductions and treatments are properly "allowed" or "disallowed". This ends up basically turning into a negotiation with the IRS every year. No matter what the corp files the IRS always asks for more. Both sides have incentives to work out an agreeable compromise because fighting over it takes a long time, costs a lot and creates uncertainty.
* The primary goal of the finance group is to hit the pre-planned targets for gross and net revenue, profit, taxes, expenses, etc. Paying fewer taxes than planned is almost as bad as paying more as it throws a bunch of other numbers off.
* Recent changes in regulations impacting public corporations have created new criminal liability, meaning corporate officers can go to jail for what might previously have been an error resulting in a fine. There is a maniacal focus on "Save what you can but DO NOT BREAK RULES." Even if no one goes to jail, a substantial and unplanned disallowance settlement will definitely result in some tax finance execs getting fired. I learned there's virtually no upside and huge downside to anyone in finance sticking their neck out on something that gets disallowed by the IRS.
* There are no "loopholes" in the way I used to think of it. There are just 'the rules of the game' embodied in the tax code. There are certain mechanisms that were intentionally placed in the code for the purpose of reducing taxes in certain scenarios. These mechanisms were hammered out through careful negotiation between Congressional accountants and corporate lobbyists to reach a livable status quo for both sides. Some aspects of the code were created to incentivize certain behaviors and disincentivize other behaviors. Other aspects were simple horse-trading, like "If you give us a higher percentage rate which looks better to our voters, we'll give you back this deduction opportunity you can use which looks better to your shareholders."