“What’s in it for you?” the 30-second video advertisement asks as the screen fills with images of everyday Americans: a farmer, factory workers, a young African-American woman. “The Republican tax cut saves middle-class families more than $1,200 a year,” the ad states, as faces continue to flash on the screen: a woman clocking in as she arrives at work, another working the assembly line. “More money in your pocket. A stronger economy. That’s what’s in it for you,” the ad concludes.
The fine print at the end says 45Committee sponsored the ad.
The group, a not-for-profit affiliated with the super PAC Future45, is funded by billionaires Sheldon Adelson, 84, and Joe Ricketts, 76. Adelson, a casino mogul, grew up poor, but now he stands to rake in hundreds of millions if the tax reform, with its corporate tax relief and estate tax rollback, is approved by Congress. Forbes estimates his wealth at $37.2 billion.
“Adelson and other billionaires have disproportionate power and influence on the public discourse about the tax cut,” said Leonard Burman, of the Urban Institute and of Syracuse University. He noted that even before final details of the plan are clear, it is obvious that it will provide billionaires like Adelson nine-figure tax relief.
Adelson is deeply involved in both American and Israeli politics. He’s one of President Trump’s top donors and has provided years of support to Israel’s prime minister through a daily newspaper he owns that is in favor of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ricketts and Adelson have put up $10 million for the pro-tax reform campaign they are funding. And they are not alone; fellow billionaires the Koch brothers are funding another $10 million ad campaign through Americans for Prosperity. The American Action Network, a pro-Republican group that is not required to disclose its donors, plans to spend up to $22 million on pro-tax reform ads.
45Committee’s ads posted online focus on the benefits offered by the plan to middle-class families, stressing the number “1,182,” a reference to Republican estimates that, if approved, the tax reform could add $1,182 to workers’ annual wages.
But while Adelson, Ricketts and other billionaires are going out of their way to sell the proposed tax reform as a middle-class program that has nothing to do with their own finances, senior members of the Republican Party are undercutting this message, making clear that the plan would benefits donors.
“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” is how New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins put it, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, according to The Huffington Post, also made no secret of the role major donors are playing in this public debate. When asked what would happen should the plan not pass, Graham responded candidly: “The financial contributions will stop.”
Adelson has long supported lowering corporate tax rates, though it does not top his interest list. Most of his lobbying and advocacy efforts are directed at ensuring support for Israel and the Israeli government; curbing online gambling, the biggest threat to his casino empire, and countering the wave of marijuana legalization across America.
In 2012 he backed Mitt Romney’s presidential run to the tune of over $100 million. An analysis prepared by a liberal group at the time found that if Romney got elected, Adelson would see a $2 billion tax cut. Romney’s plan was similar in its basic elements to the tax cut now proposed by Trump and congressional Republicans.
The main impact that tax reform would have on Adelson’s personal finance comes from the graduate repeal of the estate tax, now imposed on wealthy Americans with an estate of more than $5.5 million. Burman estimates that the new plan, if passed, would save heirs nearly $400 million for each billion dollar of inheritance. The current net worth of Adelson, who is 84 years old, is estimated at $32 billion.
The other key element is the corporate tax cut, which would lower significantly the rate paid by Adelson.
Trump has touted his tax plan as a way to bring back U.S. businesses that have moved overseas in search of lower tax rates. In Adelson’s case, this will make little difference. His headquarters are already located in America, and most of his overseas business is based on Chinese casinos that cannot be relocated.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.