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Originally published January 31, 2012 at 8:23 PM | Page modified February 1, 2012 at 11:53 AM

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Rally downtown protests against Wells Fargo over tax breaks

About 200 people participated in a rally and march in downtown Seattle on Tuesday to protest what they describe as unfair tax advantages provided to Wells Fargo Bank.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Protesters, While appropriate to bark up the Wells Fargo tree, there's a much, much... MORE
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About 200 people staged a rally and march in downtown Seattle Tuesday to protest what they claim are unfair tax advantages provided to Wells Fargo Bank.

The demonstration, sponsored by the advocacy group Working Washington, began with a rally at Westlake Park and ended with a march to Wells Fargo's Seattle corporate offices.

"Wells Fargo is one of the worst among corporations taking advantage of special tax benefits," said organizer Sage Wilson, of Working Washington. His group claims Wells Fargo has received $18 billion in special tax benefits since 2008, while paying "less than nothing" in federal income tax.

However, Wells Fargo spokeswoman Lara Underhill said the bank has paid "more than $30 billion in income taxes to federal and state authorities and billions more in other taxes" over the past 10 years.

She also said that the bank expects to pay an estimated $4 billion in federal and state income taxes for 2011 and that the corporation fulfills all its tax obligations.

Wilson said organizers don't argue that the tax breaks Wells Fargo has taken are legal but claim they are unethical, particularly in light of the country's dire economic situation.

Wilson said the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Citizens for Tax Justice determined that Wells Fargo was among the corporations paying the lowest percentage of taxes.

At the end of the march, the Wells Fargo headquarters, at 999 Third Ave., was shut down for approximately 15 minutes while security officers barred the demonstrators from entering.

Some employees inside the building gathered near the entrances and took photographs and videos of the protesters, who were chanting and holding signs.

The demonstrators also carried a giant check depicting the $18 billion in special tax benefits they say Wells Fargo has received from Congress. Others chanted, "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out," and "Hey, you billionaire, pay your fair share."

Police said there were no arrests.

Working Washington is an arm of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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