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The Art of the Self-Deal

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When the Republican Party in 2018 is concerned, the public policy is the grift and vice versa:

The memo, provided exclusively to Crooked.com, details how a specific measure in the bill, which was seemingly critical to securing its passage, enriched key Republicans in Congress, some to the tune of hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars a year, and provides credible estimates of the value of that provision to specific members.

Republicans adopted the provision in question just days before voting on final passage of the broader legislation. All along, Republicans intended to create a windfall for “pass-through” business owners, who collect their firms’ profits and are taxed on those profits directly. At the last moment, they widened the loophole to include real-estate investors, many of whom generate large rental-income streams, even as they employ few or no individuals. That tweak to the bill quickly became known as the “Corker Kickback” when Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who owns millions of dollars worth of real-estate assets, switched his vote from no to yes at the last minute.

Corker denied having been bought off, and the best case that the provision wasn’t added specifically to secure Corker’s vote is that it will pad the fortunes of many elected Republicans, including the president, who owns and controls a real-estate empire.

Members of Congress don’t typically disclose their tax returns or open all of the books to all of their business interests, so it’s impossible to say with complete precision how much individual members of Congress stand to benefit from the kickback. But members do file financial reports, which disclose income from business interests, including from these pass-through entities. CAPAF has used these disclosures to estimate what the memo calls the “potential tax cut” certain members of Congress gave themselves through the adoption of this provision. This is above and beyond the more straightforward tax cut the law will bestow upon nearly all wealthy members.

Several of the Republican pass-through owners named in the memo (a partial list of which you can see below) are facing challenging re-election campaigns, which suggests Democrats are preparing to widen their critique of GOP corruption to include lawmakers who have used their power to enrich themselves, personally, in the Trump era. That caveat distinguishes the emerging Democratic line of attack from the ones Republicans used to run against the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The “Corker Kickback” epithet borrows heavily from the term “Cornhusker Kickback,” which Republicans adopted eight years ago to describe a provision of the ACA that would have made it easier for Nebraska to afford the law’s Medicaid expansion. Democrats ultimately equalized the Medicaid benefit in the ACA across states, but even in its original form, the measure was never intended to funnel money into the pockets of specific senators.

Evidence of corruption pervades the entire corporate tax cut saga. After the law passed, the GOP megadonor Charles Koch donated approximately $500,000 to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s joint-fundraising committee, and multiple corporate entities with business before Trump’s administration participated in a propaganda campaign to portray what were in many cases long-planned bonuses and raises as byproducts of the corporate tax cut law.

Not that they aren’t masters of the old-school grift too:

An email that suggests Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt personally signed off on a controversial pay raise for a favored aide last month is roiling the agency.

In the last few days, top staffers became aware of an email exchange between one of two aides who received such a raise and the agency’s human resources division. In mid-March, Sarah Greenwalt, senior counsel to the administrator, wrote to HR in an attempt to confirm that her pay raise of $56,765 was being processed. Greenwalt “definitively stated that Pruitt approves and was supportive of her getting a raise,” according to an administration official who has seen the email chain.

A second administration official confirmed the exchange. The email “essentially says, ‘The administrator said that I should get this raise,’” the official told me. Both spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the private correspondence.

To be Scrupulously Fair, I see no record of any of these individuals wearing a tan suit.

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