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The shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida is reverberating today in an unlikely place: the executive suites of major corporations.

In recent days, advocacy groups have targeted more than a dozen corporations over their financial support for the conservative organization that encouraged states to pass the “Stand Your Ground” legislation cited as a defense for George Zimmerman, the man charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 shooting.

The advocates are celebrating decisions by several major food and beverage companies to sever financial ties with the organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Kraft Foods and Wendy’s have cut their support for the group, although all played down any connection to the Florida shooting.

The tension in corporate boardrooms over the case is the latest example of the pitfalls companies can sometimes face when they donate to political and lobbying groups, even those that seem safely below the radar of public consciousness.

The ALEC controversy is now sparking a broader debate about corporate participation in politics and the polarized state of political discourse. At a minimum, it has strengthened calls for companies to develop clear policies explaining their spending.

“I would caution companies to be very aware of where their money is going,” says Nell Minow, director of GMI Ratings, which provides corporate governance information to investors, corporate auditors and regulatory agencies. “Companies are going to realize they can take a real reputational hit with this kind of affiliation.”

She and others recall the tempest that erupted in 2010 around Target after the company donated to a nonprofit group supporting a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate who was known for opposing gay rights initiatives.

The Supreme Court decision that year in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission gave corporations the right to contribute directly to groups active in election campaigns.

But most major corporations have not jumped at the chance. Rather, publicly traded companies have largely continued to donate through nonprofit lobbying and political groups — many recently formed — that are not compelled to reveal their donors.

The Washington Post, “Trayvon Martin Shooting Spurs Protests Against Companies With Ties to Legislative Group.”

Oops — looks like the other shoe dropped with respect to Citizens United.

As it has evolved, the company has used, and in some cases pioneered, aggressive strategies to lower its tax bill. In the mid-1980s, President Ronald Reagan overhauled the tax system after learning that G.E. — a company for which he had once worked as a commercial pitchman — was among dozens of corporations that had used accounting gamesmanship to avoid paying any taxes.

“I didn’t realize things had gotten that far out of line,” Mr. Reagan told the Treasury secretary, Donald T. Regan, according to Mr. Regan’s 1988 memoir. The president supported a change that closed loopholes and required G.E. to pay a far higher effective rate, up to 32.5 percent.

That pendulum began to swing back in the late 1990s. G.E. and other financial services firms won a change in tax law that would allow multinationals to avoid taxes on some kinds of banking and insurance income. The change meant that if G.E. financed the sale of a jet engine or generator in Ireland, for example, the company would no longer have to pay American tax on the interest income as long as the profits remained offshore.

Known as active financing, the tax break proved to be beneficial for investment banks, brokerage firms, auto and farm equipment companies, and lenders like GE Capital. This tax break allowed G.E. to avoid taxes on lending income from abroad, and permitted the company to amass tax credits, write-offs and depreciation. Those benefits are then used to offset taxes on its American manufacturing profits.

"G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Paying Taxes Altogether," from the New York Times.

Read the whole article.  Your stomach will churn.