General Electric Co, embroiled in controversy over its low 2010 U.S. tax bill, was the subject of a hoax press release claiming it would donate billions of dollars to the federal government.
The Yes Men, an activist group known for issuing false statements claiming major attitude changes in corporate America on Wednesday sent media outlets an e-mail claiming to be from the largest U.S. conglomerate saying that GE would send its $3.2 billion tax refund from 2010 back to Washington.
It's a hoax and GE did not receive a refund, said Deirdre Latour, a GE spokeswoman.
The Yes Men, which in October 2009 staged a phony press conference claiming that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had decided to support climate-change legislation, sent the fake GE release, said Andrew Boyd, who said he was a member of the group.
GE shares slipped after at least two news organizations reported the hoax as fact.
The shares were up 6 cents at $20.07 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE's tax rate has been in the public eye since the New York Times reported last month that it paid no U.S. income taxes in 2010, a claim that GE denies. GE has acknowledged that its 2010 tax bill was low due to hefty losses at its GE Capital finance unit during the financial crisis.
Chief Executive Jeff Immelt in a March speech in Washington acknowledged that the company tries to keep its tax bill as low as it can but said it does so legally.
Our tax rate will be higher in 2011, said Immelt, who U.S. President Barack Obama in January named to head a new White House penal aimed at driving jobs growth. We do it in a compliant way. There are no exceptions.
The Yes Men sent the release to draw attention to GE's approach to taxes, Boyd said in a phone interview.
This is unpatriotic, it's undemocratic, it's unfair, Boyd said. It might be legal but it's immoral.
(Reporting by Scott Malone, editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Dave Zimmerman)