The imperfect tax bill President Trump signed into law on Dec. 22 is further evidence of the rot in Washington,. The tax bill isn’t about tax reform, it’s about money and influence.
Consider the giveaway known as the carried interest rule. It’s another outrageous example of the powerful getting what they want, as they always do. This will come as no shock to anyone over the age of five.
The term “carried interest” derives from the share of profits that 12th-century ship owners and captains were given as an interest in the cargo they carried, usually a 20 percent commission to provide an incentive to keep an eye on the cargo.
Today carried interest is the 20 percent of profits from their funds with which private equity firms, venture capitalists, and real estate partnerships compensate themselves. These proceeds are taxed at a capital gains rate of 20 percent, about half the top individual income rate, which will fall to 37 percent under the new tax law. Critics argue that this money is effectively income and should be taxed at individual income tax rates. The constituents for the deduction argue that removing the incentive would reduce entrepreneurial risk taking.
The reason for the loophole’s survival comes down to campaign contributions to key lawmakers and intense lobbying to maintain the favorable tax treatment. As Gary D. Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council said, “The reality of this town is that constituency has a very large presence in the House and the Senate and they have really strong relationships on both sides of the aisle.”
The American Investment Council, a Washington trade association that represents private equity firms, reported some $970,000 in lobbying expenditures for the first three quarters of 2017. This is in addition to the smart investment made by way of campaign contributions targeted to key lawmakers. For example, employees of the private equity firm The Blackstone Group L.P. contributed $212,000 to Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2017 alone. In turn, politicians serve their contributors by protecting the carried interest preference.
Private equity firms have the means and vanity to get what they want. It is further proof that money is the mother’s milk of politics and that big money gets its way in Washington, D.C.
During the presidential campaign both President Trump and Secretary Clinton gave a pitch-perfect populist performance, wanting everyone to know that they were militantly opposed to this loophole, a form of welfare for the wealthy. When a politician says something like that, sports fans, try inserting a negative and you are likely to hit pay dirt. Political rhetoric is as unrelated to the truth as an advertising campaign.
The power of money seems eternal. Politicians love it like a child loves Christmas, and all are working hard to avoid reading their own political obituaries. Knowledge that it has always been this way is no consolation.
They tell pro forma lies to the public and the media, and then begin to believe what they read. Not laying blame, just putting truth into words. So House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady (R. Texas), with a truly magnificent smile, said on the Morning Joe talk show “carried interest, we can talk about that for the next hour if you like, but for most Americans they could care less about that.”
In its pursuit of a free lunch, the public is often a bit too eager to accept the things they want to hear at face value, even though they should know that truthfulness is not a long (or short) suit for elected officials, who spin untruths with the same gusto young Abraham Lincoln supposedly split logs.
You can’t bring about change by wishing upon a star. You can run with that.
Originally Published: January 6, 2019