In the last few weeks, the obscenely wealthy titans of private equity and hedge funds have assembled a huge lobbying machine to work the hallways of Congress and lobby its key committees. The reason: to subvert the common good and abort a fair tax increase on their partnerships and compensation fees.
The proposed increase–from the capital gains tax rate of 15 percent to the ordinary income rate of as much as 35 percent–would provide desperately needed new sources of revenue to pay for programs in education, healthcare and infrastructure. As Damon Silvers, associate counsel at the AFL-CIO put it, “The tax subsidy to the wealthiest Americans created by these lower rates on equity funds is a significant drain on the ability to do important things for the good of the country.”
What’s not unexpected is Bush Administration and GOP opposition–with dire warnings of how any tax increase would harm the economy and stifle risk-taking. One Republican lobbyist even had the audacity to object to “ending the beneficial tax treatment of risk versus the treatment of wages from work.” But it’s the lukewarm response to these measures by powerful Democrats like Senator Chuck Schumer and Christopher Dodd and Representative Rahm Emanuel– who all happen to rely on Wall Street as a major source of political contributions–that’s disturbing. As they deliberate about the future of tax justice in America, these three (and other fence-straddling Democratic lawmakers) may want to think hard about what the AFL’s Silvers’ pointed out in a recent New York Times article: “The top 25 individuals in the industry [private equity funds] got paid over $10 billion, taxed at a rate of 15 percent. Those 25 people got paid three times the amount that was paid to all 80,000 people who teach in the New York City schools, and they paid roughly one-half to one-third of taxes on a percentage basis.”
At a moment when hedge funds have emerged as among the largest contributors to Democratic campaigns, let’s hold Presidential candidates accountable for their stance on this tax-equity issue. Presidential candidate John Edwards, a former adviser to Fortress investment Group, a New York -based hedge fund that recently went public, has already taken a good step in denouncing “a tax code that lets hedge fund and private equity managers making hundreds of millions a year pay taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries is wrong.”