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Amid all the fuss about poor migrant workers sneaking across the border with hopes of making money here and, perhaps, eventually gaining U.S. citizenship for themselves and/or their children comes word of an opposite trend: a growing number of rich scofflaws fleeing America to avoid paying taxes.
The news agency Reuters reported last week that among the most recent perpetrators of this dodge are Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who renounced his U.S. citizenship to remain in Singapore, and Austrian émigré Denise Rich, a well-heeled socialite, Grammy-nominated songwriter and major Democratic donor who once helped her indicted former husband secure a controversial presidential pardon from Bill Clinton on his last day in office in 2001.
Records show that last year nearly 1,800 citizens and permanent residents expatriated from the United States, the most ever since the government started tracking such data in 1998. This number, of course, hardly offsets the estimated millions of undocumented foreigners living in this country, but it still represents an interesting juxtaposition: Evidently, many dirt poor are determined to get into this country, while many filthy rich are equally desperate to get out.
What you do with your wealth is more telling that how you earned it. For every Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, noted philanthropists, there are such robber baronesses as Leona Helmsley, who bequeathed most of her fabulous fortune to a Maltese lapdog and once famously sneered, "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."
Denise Rich may not be as morally bankrupt as the late Mrs. Helmsley, and at least she possesses the redeeming quality of having written songs recorded by Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige and Jessica Simpson - but truth be told, if it weren't for the lost taxes we're not too sorry she's now living in Austria, her father's birthplace.
Ms. Rich had until 1996 been married to billionaire trader Marc Rich, who received a presidential pardon after she made generous contributions to the Democratic Party and the Clinton Library. Marc Rich had moved to Switzerland in 1983 just before being indicted on charges of tax evasion, fraud, racketeering and illegally trading oil with Iran during the Iran hostage crisis.
Experts estimate moving to Austria will save her tens of millions of dollars in taxes.
Mr. Saverin of Facebook fame likely will save at least as much by skedaddling to Singapore, an offshore tax haven, just before the company's initial public offering in May.
It comes as no surprise that the uber-rich manage to stay that way by hiring savvy accountants, lawyers and financial advisers who devise various stratagems to protect their fortunes from government plunder.
Mitt Romney's consultants once salted a sizeable chunk of his change in a Swiss bank account and invested tens of millions of dollars in the Cayman Islands, a popular tax shelter, according to an article in this month's Vanity Fair magazine. In addition, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee opposes efforts by President Obama to eliminate the Bush-era tax cuts for those whose household incomes exceed $250,000.
Mr. Romney argues that this nation shouldn't raise taxes on "job creators," but we fear that less such revenue is being used to create jobs and more is simply disappearing into overseas accounts.
Incidentally, not all altered citizenship statuses are related to finance.
Two months ago Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was granted citizenship in Switzerland.
The onetime aspirant for the GOP presidential nomination was eligible for dual citizenship because her husband, Marcus, is of Swiss descent, and the couple said some of their children wanted to exercise that privilege.
A few days after word of the development got out and evidently set off alarm bells among her constituents and the party faithful, Rep. Bachmann changed her mind and renounced her Swiss citizenship.
"I was born in America and I am a proud American citizen. I am, and always have been, 100 percent committed to our United States Constitution and the United States of America. ... I am proud of my allegiance to the greatest nation the world has ever known," she declared.
We wonder if Denise Rich or Eduardo Severin would ever make such a statement.