WASHINGTON ― The White House and congressional Republicans have sought to portray their tax plan as primarily a middle class tax cut. But lately, some of them have been admitting that big money political donors and wealthy CEOs, two groups that overlap heavily, are the ones who care about it the most.
“The most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan,” Gary Cohn, the leading White House economic adviser and former chief operating officer at Goldman Sachs, said in an interview with CNBC on Thursday.
Cohn’s statement is no doubt true ― it just isn’t exactly the message Republicans want to send as they argue that their bill isn’t just a sop for the rich and powerful. But over the past few weeks, several Republicans have indicated that the tax bill would boost the wealth of the already rich and ensure that their political donations keep flowing to help the GOP hold power in 2018.
“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), himself a millionaire, said on Tuesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Thursday that a failure to pass tax reform would fracture the Republican Party and lead to more far-right wing primary challengers. “The financial contributions will stop,” he added.
It isn’t often that politicians admit that their failure to pass legislation will impact their ability to collect money for their campaigns. They usually try to avoid an appearance that campaign contributions are linked to specific legislation.
Lawmakers aren’t the only ones talking about the connection between legislation and campaign money. Conservative donors and those running the political groups that help elect Republicans have issued similar dire warnings.
“(Donors) would be mortified if we didn’t live up to what we’ve committed to on tax reform,” Steven Law, the head of Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), told the New York Post.
Those big donors are already trying to push the tax cut legislation across the finish line by spending tens of millions of dollars on political advertising. Nonprofit groups that do not disclose their donors, like 45Committee, American Action Network, America First, Americans for Prosperity, and Freedom Partners, plan to spend at least $43 million on a campaign to pressure specific members of Congress to pass the bill, according to the The Wall Street Journal.
45Committee was founded by Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino oligarch, and Joe Ricketts, the billionaire owner of the Chicago Cubs who recently shuttered multiple news organizations he ran after the workers voted to unionize.
Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch run Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, which are funded by a network of multi-millionaires and billionaires from across the country. American Action Network’s board of directors includes lobbyists and strategic advisers to lobbying firms hired to influence the tax legislation.
Academic studies have shown that the wealthy have both an inordinate amount of influence over policy while holding dramatically different policy priorities than the rest of the population. Cohn and Republican lawmakers’ remarks make that clear ― and happen to play directly into congressional Democrats’ line of attack against the tax cut bill.
“Their pay masters, if you will ― the hard, hard right ... the Koch brothers ― all they want to do is cut taxes,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told HuffPost on Tuesday. “They don’t care about the deficit, they don’t care about the country, they don’t care about the middle class ― they just want their taxes reduced. And they run the Republican Party.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made the same argument in an op-ed for The Washington Post: “The Republican leadership has outsourced its economic agenda to a handful of billionaires and corporate donors.”
“Representative Chris Collins confessed that donors are telling him to cut their taxes ‘or don’t ever call again,’” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted. “That’s why this bill raises taxes on middle-class families.”
Republicans’ series of telling gaffes confirming Democratic Party critiques of their agenda wouldn’t be complete without one from President Donald Trump.
In a phone call urging Democrats to support the bill, the president ― a billionaire and former political donor himself ― reportedly told them, “My accountant called me and said, ‘You’re going to get killed in this bill’” if it doesn’t include an estate tax cut.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the super PAC Steven Law runs. It’s the Senate Leadership Fund.