The Pulitzer Prize committee exhibited a little sense of humor in awarding, on the eve of tax day, the prize in the Explanatory Reporting category to The New York Times reporter David Kocieniewski. For the past year and more, Kocieniewski has been writing a series for his paper called “But Nobody Pays That,” about the curiousities of the Federal tax code that allow some corporations to pay little or no tax.
Among Kocieniewski’s hits have been stories outlining how companies like Sirius XM take large deductions for issuing stock options to their top executives without laying out any cash. (Companies are allowed to deduct the value of the stocks when the execs cash their options in, not the value when the options were issued. The cash-in price, naturally, is higher.)
Another story in the series tells how video-game makers often combine tax breaks for software development, entertainment and retailing, making them, according to one expert, the most subsidized industries in the country. Kocieniewski seemingly delighted in the notion that we need to make things easier for the producerso of “the gory Dead Space 2, which challenges players to advance through an apocalyptic battlefield by killing space zombies.”
It’s no secret that corporations have been granted unprecedented tax breaks in the past few decades; the need for corporate tax reform has been raised on both sides of the aisle in Congress, and recently New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg decried the overgenerosity shown American companies (especially those lured away to New Jersey by Gov. Chris Christie). But Kocieniewski pored over corporate filings and plumbed the depths of arcane law to provide the details.
The Pulitzer committee loves this kind of document-diving in any year, but in an election season in which income inequality and tax fairness has been on every commentator’s lips, they deservedly but topically gave Kocieniewski his medal.