If you are Exxon Mobil, Verizon or General Electric, chances are filing taxes over the past few years has been significantly less painful than for the average American. [See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]
And Sunlight Foundation senior fellow Lee Drutman says that's because everyday Americans don't have lobbyists on the hill fighting for them.
"If you think you wound up paying too much in taxes this year, maybe you ought to hire a lobbyist or two or 20," Drutman writes in a recent report. A Sunlight Foundation study shows that of the country's 200 largest corporations, the eight companies that dished out the most money for lobbying on Capitol Hill between 2007 and 2010 saw major savings in corporate taxes. Six of the companies even saw a more than 7 percent drop in their tax rate over the years.
AT&T for example, a company that spent more than $70 million on federal lobbying saw a 40.4 percent decrease in their rate, a more than $7 billion savings on corporate taxes. Northrop Grumman's tax rate also decreased from nearly 33 percent to just over 20 percent after they doled out $57 million for lobbyists to pitch their causes on Capitol Hill. [Read the U.S. News debate: Should the 'Buffett Rule' Become Law? ]
All together the "Big Eight" paid $540 million for federal lobbying and saved over $11 billion in taxes. Drutman estimates the return on investment to be roughly 2,000 percent.
With all of the changes in tax code, it's easy to see how companies can save so much in just a few years.
"In 2005, the President's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform counted approximately 15,000 separate changes to the tax code since 1986," Drutman said. [Joseph Mason: How the 'Buffett Rule' Has Already Hurt the Economy]
And the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, the country's written tax code document, has more than doubled from 33,000 pages in the mid-1980s to more than 72,000 pages today.
However, corporations are not the only ones benefiting from low corporate taxes.
Drutman says that congressmen who sit on the House Ways and Means Committee, the congressional arm in control of tax regulation, receive about $250,000 more in fundraising contributions than their fellow lawmakers.
"Being on Ways and Means is like having Christmas every day," says Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University and expert on influence in politics. "They barely have to raise any money. It rains down upon them. They are standing under the money tree."