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Let 'yacht people' leave don't let them come back


Although Michael Dingman has saved millions of dollars in U.S. taxes by renouncing his U.S. citizenship and moving to the Bahamas, he has given up one right:

He no longer can contribute to American political campaigns.

Which may not break his heart.

Dingman, a "yacht person," who reaps great financial benefit by spurning the country of his birth, is the chairman and CEO of TTC Abex Inc., an aerospace company in New Hampshire.

And, in the past, Abex has been generous to American politicians.

In 1992, something called the Abex Inc. Employees for Sensible Government contributed $5,000 each to the successful campaigns of Republican U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Zeliff, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Dick Swett.

In 1994, the group gave money to Zeliff, who was re-elected, and Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Bass, who defeated Swett.

There is nothing illegal about this. And doubtless there was no connection between these contributions and the successful efforts of Republicans to block new laws proposed by the Clinton administration to tax wealthy Americans who give up their citizenship.

Congress is scheduled to revisit the matter in June, but Dingman is safely ensconced in his new $10 million home in the Bahamas.

He can continue to do business in the United States, however, and can continue to visit this country by getting a visa.

But Bruce Morrison, one of America's leading experts on immigration law, thinks maybe this should be changed.

"The new tax law [proposed by Clinton] is a reasonable way to deal with a tax avoidance scheme," Morrison, a former Democratic congressman from Connecticut, told me. "But there is another question: Why should these people get to come back so easily? Why shouldn't they have to get a green card rather than a visa?"

What's the difference?

"A green card would subject them to U.S. taxes!" Morrison said. "These people blithely expect to have all the benefits of traveling back and forth to the United States. But if they renounce their U.S. citizenship and say they don't need us, well, then we don't need them.

"If they think American citizenship is merely a financial transaction, fine, leave. But what we should say to them is that they can't come back unless they are going to pay taxes."

But wealthy Americans who are contemplating giving up their citizenship to get the same deal Dingman got want to make sure Congress does nothing to harm their chances. So they have hired two high-powered lobbyists, former Republican Sen. Steve Symms of Idaho and former Republican Rep. Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan, to protect their interests.

And Symms has compared taxing expatriates to dictatorship. "Hitler did it," Symms has said. "Stalin did it."

But someone who actually has lived under a Communist dictatorship sees little comparison.

Robert Slavikas fled Soviet-controlled Lithuania when he was 15 and made his way to the United States.

Like Michael Dingman, Slavikas is an entrepreneur. Though he came to America with little money and only a few words of English, Slavikas now runs his own garage, European Motors in Catonsville.

He hopes to become a U.S. citizen. He pays all U.S. taxes. He has no plans to leave.

"At first, you see all the goods and you can't believe it," he said, speaking of his first impressions of America. "So many kinds of things, so many colors. But then it is the people. Very friendly. Americans are always rushing, rushing, but if you need something, they are friendly.

"Working for yourself is a different kind of headache, but I like it. I try to be honest with everyone."

But what about taxes? I asked. Don't you hate paying taxes?

"Yes, I do," he said. "It's difficult sometimes after whole months of work to pay a pretty good lump to Uncle Sam. But that's a part of it. That's a part of America.

"And I tell you something: I'd rather pay taxes and be here than going back."

Michael Dingman does not have to make that choice, of course. He is wealthy almost beyond imagining.

And so he can turn his back on America and not have to live with want or fear or repression.

All he has to live with is his conscience.

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