Campaigning for Geneva’s US ex-pats’ votes viewed as luxury

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Kirsten Gillibrand is a senator from New York who has been in Geneva this week to raise campaign funds: she is going after part of her constituency, American voters from her state who live in Europe. Democrats from New York who live in neighbouring France and Switzerland are being given an astonishingly rare treat that could provoke envy among other Americans abroad: a member of the US Congress has noticed and is listening to them.

Her trip has drawn the ire of Republicans back home, however, in the conservative press, with the state chairman of the Republican party, Ed Cox, saying “Senator Gillibrand touts her un-passed ‘Upstate Works Act’ while sipping champagne, popping canapés, and filling her campaign coffers in the shadow of the Swiss Alps. She is clinking glasses overseas when she should be cracking heads in Washington to actually get a bill passed.”

The National Journal published an article on the trip. “Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman at the government watchdog group Common Cause, said the trip ‘shows the insane lengths that candidates and members of Congress go to raise money for their reelection campaigns.'”

The criticism of Gillibrand and underlying assumptions that Geneva = overseas Americans = wealthy Americans come shortly after James Fallows, writing  “The Fatca Chronicles” in The Atlantic, has cautioned Americans abroad that when they complain about lack of representation and  unfair tax regulations they are likely to be viewed as “whiners”:

Something most overseas Americans don’t realize: The home-bound population does not view them as a hardship class. A known risk category for long-term expats is becoming whiners—I speak as someone who’s lived outside the U.S. for several multi-year stretches and has been known to whine,” he wrote 2 January in “The Fatca Menace”.

Americans living overseas, from Canada to Switzerland, have been complaining loudly in recent months about unfair treatment at the hands of the IRS, starting with double taxation and onerous financial reporting requirements, such as the FBAR and the impact of Fatca on their ability to have bank accounts in the countries where they live, pay rent or own homes and try to set aside retirement money.

Town hall meetings in Geneva and protests in Canada have made it clear that the complaints are coming, not from a handful of wealthy diletante expats, but from a large group of middle income Americans who happen to live outside the country and who ultimately help the rest of the world better understand the US through personal contact.

Many fall below the $92,000 earned income exclusion, the bar set by the IRS for double taxation, and they have been vocal in their complaints about how the system has nevertheless cost them unfairly and grossly.

A significant part of their complaint but one that has so far fallen on deaf ears in the US is that they are taxed without representation. True, an American abroad technically should have Congressional representatives to whom complaints and pleas for help can be sent, and these overseas citizens are supposed to be able to vote and can, in theory, help elect people who understand their concerns.

The system sounds fine on paper, but the reality is very different. For a start, many Americans who live overseas, especially long-term residents or children born abroad to US citizens, no longer or have never had addresses they can use in a US state, and your US address is the starting point for all congressional relations.

Offspring are told by some states, in order to vote and to have a congressional rep, to use a parent’s last address in a state, but this can make voter registration an onerous process. They are simply not eligible to vote in some states.

The Overseas Vote Foundation has been working hard to improve the situation, but few Americans in the US appear to be aware that for a large number of Americans overseas the basic representation and taxation rights that are so stridently defended during electoral campaigns sadly do not apply to all citizens.

Groups like Geneva-based ACA (American Citizens Abroad) have been working hard to draw attention to the issues.

But even if all US citizens abroad managed to find a senator or representative willing to listen to  them, this group is dispersed, so its voice remains weak. Their common concerns appear through a prism of all the states, so few politicians see them as having enough weight to be important.

Gillibrand isn’t just raising money for a campaign. She’s opened a conversation with a group of Americans who are often ill-treated by their own government because its elected leaders too often focus on larger vested interests. She should be given some credit by Democrats and Republicans alike for doing her homework and taking her responsibilities seriously.


  1. American Expat says:

    “Taxation without Representation: The Persecution of America’s Expats”

    America’s Founders and Signers of the Declaration of Independence are rolling in their graves over the ignorant hypocrisy of the US Government.

    America would not exist if great men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, John Hancock, Paul Revere, John and Sam Adams and others had bowed to the tyranny of the British Empire.

    Today’s politicians in the city bearing Washington’s name are a disgrace in taxing Americans abroad who have no representation in US Congress and receive no benefits from the US Government. They are completely ignorant of their own country’s history.

    Americans abroad do not use US highways, bridges, dams, schools, hospitals, fire, police, courts etc. They are not able to receive unemployment benefits or Medicare. They receive NOTHING from the US government other than a travel document, which they pay for.

    The battle cry of the American Revolution was NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!

    Like the British Stamp Act and other Intolerable Acts, FATCA and all the other legislation coming out of US Congress targeting Americans abroad will inevitably result in tidal wave of Renunciations of US Citizenship.

    Americans abroad are awakening to the true nature of the US government. Like the colonialists in America, some will accept it, but many will not and make their own Declarations of Independence.

    The increase in Renunciations of US Citizenship will be ignored at first, but before long, it will become a major source of embarrassment. Former US Citizens are already comparing themselves to East Germans jumping over the BERLIN WALL.

    And to top it off, the US Government has recently tried to build the wall higher by subjecting those choosing to renounce their citizenship to an EXIT TAX, similar to the Estate Tax.

    Like the slaves of the Roman Empire, Americans abroad now have to buy their own freedom.

    America’s Founders roll in their graves!

  2. Born Free says:

    A great comment from Roger Conklin regarding 11 January WSJ article titled, “Obama Promotes Insourcing Jobs:”

    President Obama has a very short memory. Back at the beginning of his administration he announced an Export Initiative to create jobs by doubling US exports in 5 years. And his appointed commission presented a plan to add commercial attache staff at our Embassies abroad, encourage US companies to participate in foreign trade fairs and to invite foreign purchasers to the US. Missing from this plan was increasing the number of Americans who go abroad to sell American products. The plan has gone very badly. Products don’t sell themselves. This takes feet on the ground which all of our trade competitor have but the US does not. Yes, there has been a modest increase in exports, but imports have grown far more rapidly than exports, so far more American jobs have been destroyed as our trade deficit has increased than jobs created by increased exports. Our 12-month goods trade deficit through October is $720 billion. This represents some 7 million destroyed American jobs manufacturing for export. Our trade deficit continues to grow by $1.9 billion per day. These destroyed jobs represent $130 billion in Federal tax revenue that fails to be generated.

    The US attaches a ball-and-chain to every citizen who goes overseas. He pays taxes on his worldwide income to the foreign host country and then is double taxed on this same income by the IRS. No other country taxes is overseas citizens, so they go abroad and create jobs at home whereas this punishing double taxation of our own citizens if they do that punishes them if they relocate abroad. Germany,for example, exports 7.9 times more per-capita than the US to China and has a $12.5 billion China trade surplus whereas we have a $270 billion China trade deficit.

    In order to compete with citizens of other countries for overseas postings and and end up with the same after-tax income, US citizens must be compensated between 3 to 5 times more than non US citizens in order to cover the additional tax cost that citizens of no other nation have to bear.

    Instead of repealing this destructive double taxation, President Obama in 2010 signed the FATCA legislation which makes it impossible for a US citizen to open a bank account in a foreign country. It imposes such massive reporting requirements on the accounts held by US citizens by foreign banks that they are dumping all their US citizen account holders. This law requires foreign banks to violate the privacy laws of their countries in providing data to the IRS, a foreign tax authority, which they are prohibited from releasing to any third party.

    So please, President Obama, get your priorities straightened out.

  3. We the people says:

    An interesting article from “The Hill” on Senator Rand Paul’s efforts to block information sharing treaties. Perhaps he will be able to do something about FATCA and citizenship-based taxation.

    By Bernie Becker and Alexander Bolton – 01/13/12 06:00 AM ET

    Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is holding up a trio of international tax treaties over concerns that the pacts give the federal government too much power to invade personal privacy.

    The Obama administration says the three treaties — with Luxembourg, Hungary and Switzerland — will help the United States battle tax evasion by reining in the use of offshore accounts to hide assets from the IRS…

  4. Nadia says:

    Ha, so senator Gillibrand is fund raising in Geneva. I was wondering where she was, haven’t heard her shouting on her cell phone at some poor soul ouside her dc home for a while. Well guess what she ain’t doing nothing for expats overseas ( I was one for yrs in Zurich), just talk. We folks here in dc pay fed taxes but get no damn representation, have been fighting for yrs, we even have taxation without representation on our license plates, but still no damn senator or congress person has done a damn for the residents of dc. Where is she going to do anything for u all. Pls don’t be fooled by her or any one of those sleeve bag politicians, save yr donations and give to your kids instead. Democrat from dc.