In his 2009 film "Capitalism: A Love Story," Michigan native Michael Moore went to Wall Street with a request to corporate officials whose companies received bailout money from the federal government.
"We're here to get the money back for the American people," Moore said in the film. "I've got more bags — $10 billion probably won't fit in here."
Moore was criticizing an economic system he calls "legalized greed," but the Mackinac Center has discovered that Moore's movie qualified for a windfall — at the expense of Michigan taxpayers.
That windfall would come from Michigan's refundable tax credit program for the film industry, a program that allows movie producers to apply for a tax refund of up to 42 percent of their spending in Michigan. This lavish provision means a studio can easily receive more from Michigan taxpayers than it pays in Michigan taxes.
This initially seemed to trouble Moore, and he openly questioned the program at a forum in July 2008.
"These are large multinational corporations — Viacom, GE, Rupert Murdoch — that own these studios. Why do they need our money, from Michigan, from our taxpayers, when we're already broke here?" Moore asked.
Moore posed this question to the Michigan Film Office
director who determines which movies will qualify for the program. Moore went
on: "I mean, they play one state against another, and so they get all this free
cash when they're making billions already in profits. What's the thinking
And as recently as September 2009, Moore told the Michigan Messenger that if the film incentive is "not good for Michigan, Michigan shouldn't do it."
But by this time, Moore had already been appointed to the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council. The council works with the film office in part to facilitate participation in the tax refund program.
Moore filmed part of "Capitalism: A Love Story" in Michigan. And the Mackinac Center has confirmed with the film office that a "production person" associated with Moore "applied, was approved for an incentive and ... will receive credits" once the state treasury department reviews and approves the audited filing.
The film office did not disclose how much the resulting payment from the state would be; however, the film office director insisted that the incentive approval posed no conflict of interest with Moore's seat on the film office advisory council.
Last September, Moore told the Michigan Messenger, "I am under pressure from the studio" to apply for the tax credit for "Capitalism: A Love Story."
In November 2008, Moore declined an on-camera interview with the Mackinac Center to clarify his initial comments on the film incentive program.
When calls and e-mails to Moore and his production company about tax credits for "Capitalism" were not returned, a page from Moore's own moviemaking playbook was tempting.
Instead, we spoke with Mackinac Center Fiscal Policy Director Michael LaFaive about Moore and the film incentive program.
"You cannot create jobs, you cannot enrich both Peter and
Paul by robbing one of them," LaFaive said. "And that's what is occurring here.
Mr. Moore should know better, since he so long has railed against this type of
cronyism, these cozy relationships between government and the
Michael Moore said in his film, "We want our money back."
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government. Through our research and education programs, we challenge government overreach and advocate for a free-market approach to public policy that frees people to realize their potential and dreams.
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