On television networks in Ohio and New York, a sunny advertisement features a series of characters taking turns speaking to the camera to plead with audiences to call Congress in support of tax reform. There’s a retail clerk, a mechanic, a man standing in front of a wall of tools, an apparent factory worker, and a woman seated at a nondescript office desk — all calling for the passage of a tax reform plan that amounts to a corporate handout.
The ad, part of a nationwide marketing campaign to build support for President Donald Trump’s tax-cut plan, belies the true sponsors of the message: large corporate interests, including Dow Chemical, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft.
The ad follows a now-familiar script: Dark-money groups, backed by billionaires and powerful business lobbies, attempt to build support for tax-cut legislation by concealing donor information and portraying middle-class Americans as the ones who benefit the most.
Watch the ad:
The disclaimer at the end of the spot says it is sponsored by the local state chamber of commerce. But the reality is more murky. The ad campaign is actually financed by a national group: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a private organization that lobbies on behalf of major corporations.
The Chamber touts itself as the “voice of business,” but filings suggest that the organization is largely dependent on contributions from just 64 donors providing $500,000 or more. The donor data is closely guarded, but previous reports claim firms, such as Prudential, MetLife, AT&T, Bayer, Dow Chemical, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft, are among the largest corporate members.
“What the Chamber wants would not remotely benefit any of the people featured in its ads,” said Dan Dudis, director of U.S. Chamber Watch, an advocacy group sponsored by the consumer-rights watchdog Public Citizen. “The Chamber wants a massive reduction in the corporate tax rate and a lower tax rates for high-income earners.”
Details of the tax reform package touted by the Trump administration indeed suggest that the workers depicted in the ad would benefit the least, while the ad’s sponsors are poised the reap significant windfalls. The plan calls for lowering the top income tax rate, lowering the corporate tax rate, increasing the size of the standard deduction while eliminating some deductions, and eliminating the alternative minimum tax.
An analysis by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center found that nearly 30 percent of taxpayers between $50,000 and $150,000 would likely see a tax increase under the plan. Meanwhile, when the tax cuts are fully implemented, 80 percent of the benefits would flow to the top 1 percent of earners.
Rather than benefiting the mechanics or retail clerks featured in the ad, the biggest beneficiaries of Trump’s plan are more likely to be the chief executives and shareholders of companies that support the Chamber — including its chief lobbyist. Tom Donohue, the president of the Chamber and its outspoken advocate on Capitol Hill, is paid about $6.5 million a year. Under the GOP plan, Donohue’s tax bill for about $6 million of his income would be slashed by 4.6 percent, or about $276,000 in annual savings.
The Chamber ad is one of several similar ads from lobbyists to use regular working people to build support for the plan. Late last week, the American Action Network, another GOP-aligned group managed by corporate lobbyists, began airing a series of TV advertisements to sell the plan.
“Our family is living paycheck to paycheck,” says Melissa Skowronski, a woman in the American Action Network ad. “Congress, do the right thing for working families and give us a simpler, fairer tax code.” The ad closes with a hotline that connects callers to the American Action Network, which forwards them to the congressional switchboard to speak to their representative’s office. The lobbyists in charge of the American Action Network are hoping to cash in on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enrich their clients.
Just ask Tom Reynolds, a lobbyist for student loan company Navient and a former Republican lawmaker who sits on the board of the American Action Network. “You’re either going to be at the table, or you’re going to be on the table,” Reynolds told the New York Times in a piece on the potential for $1 billion to be spent on lobbying for the tax bill.
Another ad aired on Friday that strikes a populist tone and encourages voters to pressure Democrats to support the Republican plan. The ad is sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, an organization founded and financed by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, owners of the petrochemical, financial, and manufacturing conglomerate, Koch Industries.
“Fixing our broken tax system isn’t about politics. It’s about helping people. It means the powerful, the well-connected, the politicians, they’ll stop benefitting from a rigged system,” says a woman in the Koch brothers-backed advertisement.
The ad does not disclose that it is sponsored by two of the richest men in the world, or that the legislation calls for eliminating the estate tax, which would allow the children of the Koch brothers, worth an estimated $94.8 billion, to inherit their parent’s wealth without paying a dime in taxes.
First came the Never Trumpers, and I did not speak out, because they stood against Donald Trump. Then came the Lincoln Project, and I did not speak out, because their videos went viral. Then came the Chamber of Commerce, and by then it was too late.