This report was written by Emma Rindlisbacher and Andrew Perez.
The former chairwoman of a powerful Senate panel who served in Congress with President Joe Biden is now working on behalf of a corporate front group to block Democrats' efforts to raise the corporate tax rate.
Blanche Lincoln, a two-term “Blue Dog” conservative Democrat from Arkansas, was swept out of office in the 2010 Tea Party wave after chairing the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees Wall Street financial derivatives. She has since launched her own lobbying firm, the Lincoln Policy Group, which has represented companies like Pfizer, Comcast, and Monsanto. Lincoln is serving as the public face of the RATE Coalition, which is leading the fight against Biden’s plan to raise the corporate tax rate.
Biden has proposed increasing the corporate rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, in order to fund his $2 trillion infrastructure investment plan. Republicans lowered the rate from 35 percent to 21 percent in 2017, as part of Donald Trump’s tax law.
“American employers will struggle to build back better with an even higher corporate tax rate than global competitors like China,” Lincoln said in a recent RATE Coalition statement. The group, whose name stands for “Reforming America's Taxes Equitably,” represents corporate giants like AT&T, CVS Health, FedEx, Lockheed Martin, and Walt Disney.
At least one company in the coalition she’s representing — shipping company FedEx — hasn’t paid any federal taxes in the last three years.
According to the Library of Congress, Lincoln sees an infrastructure law as her key legislative achievement — bipartisan legislation she co-authored to establish the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), a state and federal partnership that invests in states along the Mississippi river delta. Half of the DRA’s funds are targeted for basic transportation and public infrastructure improvements.
Now, two decades later, Lincoln is trying to torpedo Biden’s own infrastructure spending plan — which relies heavily on an increase in the corporate tax rate — in the name of protecting powerful, highly profitable business interests that are filling her wallet.
“Eliminate The Loopholes”
The RATE Coalition launched in 2011 to push for corporate tax cuts under President Barack Obama, claiming that “a lower corporate tax rate would better allow U.S. businesses to compete in today's global marketplace.”
In 2017, the coalition applauded Republicans’ tax legislation, claiming that it would “boost GDP, create new jobs, lift after-tax income for middle-class families, and encourage greater investment in our country.”
The law never had any real economic impact — economic growth slowed after an initial boost, and companies ended up spending much of the money on share buybacks to boost their stock prices.
The biggest beneficiaries of the tax law have been corporate CEOs. According to a recent study by Grinnell economist Eric Ohrn, “For every dollar the tax breaks generate for a firm, compensation awarded to the highest-paid executives at the firm increases by between 15 and 19 cents.”
Between 2017 and 2018, the RATE Coalition’s biggest payments went to Cavalry LLC, a consulting firm led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s former chief of staff.
After Biden won the presidency, Lincoln started appearing as a RATE Coalition advisor.
“Raising taxes in the midst of economic turmoil would only serve to keep the economy down,” Lincoln wrote in November, in a column touting her endorsement of Biden’s campaign. “Instead, Democrats — led by Biden — should heed the lessons of our history and keep our country’s tax system competitive.”
Instead of raising the corporate tax rate, Lincoln is now urging her “former colleagues in Congress and friends in the administration to eliminate the loopholes that enable profitable companies to pay little or nothing in taxes.”
Lincoln recently submitted written testimony to the Senate Finance Committee, which she previously served on, for a hearing entitled: “How U.S. International Tax Policy Impacts American Workers, Jobs, and Investment.”
“At a time when American employers and workers are striving to recover from a historic public health and economic crisis, I urge my former colleagues on the Committee to eliminate wasteful loopholes rather than our country’s new competitive corporate rate and the jobs it generates,” she wrote.
RATE Coalition member FedEx is one profitable company that regularly pays little or nothing in taxes, thanks to the 2017 GOP tax cut and various tax loopholes. FedEx’s tax rate between 2018 and 2020 was −12.8 percent, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). The report noted that “FedEx zeroed out its federal income tax on $1.2 billion of U.S. pretax income in 2020 and received a rebate of $230 million.”
Another RATE Coalition member — Liberty Media, which controls satellite radio company SiriusXM and the Atlanta Braves baseball team — saw an effective tax rate of 1.4 percent in 2018, according to a separate ITEP analysis.
Four other coalition members — Verizon, Capital One, AT&T, and Disney — claimed a combined $4.7 billion in tax breaks in 2018, thanks to Trump’s tax law.
“Great Corporate Citizenship”
Last month, Lincoln also signed up to lobby on “workforce safety” issues for JBS, a Brazilian meatpacking conglomerate that has drawn national attention over its failure to contain COVID outbreaks at its meatpacking plants.
The company is currently facing a congressional investigation, after the company saw widespread COVID-19 outbreaks in its plants, resulting in at least 18 deaths.
In Greeley, Colo., JBS kept its meatpacking plant open as the pandemic started and pressed workers to keep showing up after people started getting sick. At least six workers from the plant died. The company denied three of their families’ worker’s compensation claims, asserting their COVID cases weren’t work-related.
As part of its investigation into JBS and other meatpacking companies, the House’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis requested that JBS provide extensive documents and information regarding its treatment of workers during the pandemic, as well as data on how many of its employees have been infected with the virus or died.
“Public reports indicate that meatpacking companies, including JBS, have refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers, many of whom earn extremely low wages and lack adequate paid leave, and have shown a callous disregard for workers’ health,” Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the subcommittee’s chairman, wrote to the company. “These actions appear to have resulted in thousands of meatpacking workers getting infected with the virus and hundreds dying.”
The company last month settled a price fixing lawsuit. Last fall, the company agreed to pay $280 million to the Justice Department to settle claims it violated foreign bribery laws. An additional worker died at the Greeley plant last month, after he was struck by a machine and fell.
In need of a publicity boost, JBS recently enlisted Lincoln to promote a program to help their employees attend community college, on the same day her firm started lobbying for the company.
“I’m so pleased to see JBS USA providing this opportunity to their colleagues and their families,” Lincoln said in a company press release. “This commitment is perhaps the most extraordinary example of great corporate citizenship that I’ve heard of in a long time.”
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