Americans for Tax Reform

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Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is ostensibly a group that pushes for lower taxes founded in 1985 by Grover Norquist. It has close ties to the Republican Party and has frequently allied itself with the tobacco industry. ATR describes itself as a group that "believes in a system in which taxes are simpler, flatter, more visible, and lower than they are today. The government's power to control one's life derives from its power to tax. We believe that power should be minimized."[1]

Koch Wiki

The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.

Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council

ATR is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).[2]

About ALEC
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.

Ties to the Koch Brothers

ATR has several significant ties to the Koch brothers and their network of conservative donors.

Contribution from Koch-tied Center to Protect Patients Rights

In 2010, ATR received $4,189,000 from the Koch-linked Center to Protect Patient Rights (see below for more).[3] The Center's contribution amounted to approximately a third of ATR's revenue in 2010, which was almost $12.4 million.[4] The Center, a 501(c)(4) group now known as American Encore, receives a bulk of its funding from TC4 Trust and the Kochs' Freedom Partners and is overseen by "Koch operative" Sean Noble.[5][6]

Koch Family Foundation Contribution to Americans for Tax Reform Foundation

In 2012, Americans for Tax Reform's 501(c)(3) arm, the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, accepted $50,000 from the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, one of the Koch Family Foundations.[7]

Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax Reform Anti-Tax Effort in Tennessee

In 2014, the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity and ATR, along with other conservative interests, launched an effort to thwart Tennessee's Republican governor, Bill Haslam, and a small group of legislators who opposed a bill in the state legislature that would have repealed investment and savings funds taxes, the only form of personal income tax there.[8]

Both ATR and AFP supported the measure and made efforts to see the bill through. In a joint press conference with the bill’s sponsors, AFP president Tim Phillips and Grover Norquist spoke in favor of the bill.[9]

The groups pursued various tactics to push the bill through. AFP's state arm in Tennessee collected signatures from members of the state legislature as a pledge to support the bill. Additionally, AFP ran a radio spot criticizing Haslam in the days leading to a vote on the bill, running three times an hour on half a dozen stations in several media markets.[10]

While AFP launched its PR campaign, ATR focused its attention on legislative tactics. AFP dispatched its director of state affairs, Patrick Gleason, to help the bill’s sponsors in both chambers of the legislature compromise on an identical bill.[8] It also sent letters to members of the Tennessee House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee, emphatically reminding them that ATR "will be educating constituents as to how their representatives in the state legislature vote on this important matter."[11]

Recent Controversies

The Center for Worker Freedom

According to its website, the Center for Worker Freedom (CWF) is "a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to warning the public about the causes and consequences of unionization," a "special project" of ATR.[12] According to a report by MSNBC, the center is the recent successor of a previous ATR project called the Alliance for Worker Freedom (see below for more), which dated back to 1998.[13]

In February 2014, CWF intervened in the United Auto Workers' efforts to unionize a Volkswagen manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While the National Right to Work Committee attempted to stall unionization with legal measures, the CWF engaged in a PR campaign against the union.[14]

CWF's aggressive public relations campaign included several billboards and radio ad buys tying unions to liberal politics and economic failure in Detroit.[15] Among other things, one ad depicted the UAW as a mouthpiece for Barack Obama, whose approval ratings at the time were low, and another showed a dilapidated building in Detroit, which had filed for bankruptcy months earlier, claiming the city's economic decline was due to the union and its policies.[16]

IRS Complaint Against ATR for 2012 Activities

In 2012, ATR claimed, according to documents from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), that it spent $15.8 million on independent expenditures as it reported to the Federal Election Commission. However, on separate tax documents, ATR told the IRS it spent only $9.8 million on its political campaigns that same year, presenting a significant disparity between the two reported totals.[17] In response, CREW filed a complaint with the IRS and the Department of Justice in November 2013, alleging that "ATR and Mr. Norquist violated federal law by deliberately providing false information to the IRS when ATR filed its 2012 Tax Form 990".[17]

What is the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge"?

The Americans for Tax Reform Taxpayer Pledge has essentially two parts. The first part indicates an unequivocal pledge to oppose all efforts to marginal income tax for individuals and/or businesses. The second part consists of an opposition to any net reduction or elimination of deductions credits. Both are required to withstand in the time of a legislators tenure, if he/she agrees to sign the pledge. From the 112th Congressional list, 235 Representatives and 41 Senators have signed on to it. Of the signers, only three are Democratic legislators, and one is Independent.[18] However, only 219 Representatives and 39 Senators of the 113th Congress signed onto the pledge.[19]

Since 1986, under the Ronald Reagan administration, the Taxpayer Pledge has been utilized in GOP tax policies. Grover Norquist proposed the pledge to pressure other Republican politicians to support with President Reagan's tax agenda. Norquist says, "If you want a politician to make a commitment and want it to matter, it can't be four paragraphs long. I can't have moving parts, you can't remember what's in it." Once Reagan and congressional Republicans signed on to it, Reagan's tax-reform bill passed and the pledge has prospered ever since. [20]

Funding

ATR has received funding from a number of corporate interests and major conservative organizations, including:

Contribution from Koch-tied Center to Protect Patients Rights

In 2010, ATR received $4,189,000 from the Koch-linked Center to Protect Patient Rights (see below for more).[22] The Center's contribution amounted to approximately a third of ATR's revenue in 2010, which was almost $12.4 million.[23] The Center, a 501(c)(4) group now known as American Encore, receives a bulk of its funding from TC4 Trust and the Kochs' Freedom Partners and is overseen by "Koch operative" Sean Noble.[24][25]

Koch Family Foundation Contribution to Americans for Tax Reform Foundation

In 2012, Americans for Tax Reform's 501(c)(3) arm, the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, accepted $50,000 from the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, one of the Koch Family Foundations.[26]

Crossroads GPS Grants $26 Million to ATR

In November 2013, ProPublica reported that in 2012, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS gave $26.4 million in grants earmarked for "social welfare" to ATR; however, the money was instead spent on political activities.

According to ProPublica:

"New tax documents...indicate that at least $11.2 million of the grant money given to the group Americans for Tax Reform was spent on political activities expressly advocating for or against candidates. This means Crossroads spent at least $85.7 million on political activities in 2012, not the $74.5 million reported to the Internal Revenue Service. That's about 45 percent of its total expenditures."[27]

Spokespeople from both ATR and Crossroads didn't respond to Pro Publica's request for comment on the allegation.

Personnel

ATR is headed by Grover Norquist, one of the most connected members of the new right-wing movement. He has close ties to the Republican Party, large U.S. business interests, and both the subsidized and regular U.S. media. Norquist helped the Heritage Foundation write the Republican's 1994 Contract With America.

Shortly thereafter, Norquist led a right wing charge to "de-fund" the left, declaring that "We will hunt [these liberal groups] down one by one and extinguish their funding sources." Norquist has also worked as a lobbyist for clients including Microsoft, American Business for Legal Immigration, Distilled Spirits Council, Edison Electric Institute, Interactive Gaming Council, and British Petroleum.

History

In a May 25, 1989, memo to the Steering Committee of Americans for Tax Reform -- a document that was curiously found in the files of the now defunct Tobacco Institute -- Grover Norquist excitedly reported progress on the "anti-tax front." Not only had a swathe of members of Congress promised to veto any tax increase, Norquist reported, but there had been "three Wall Street Journal editorials highlighting the importance of ATR's pledge campaign in stopping tax hikes."

He also reported that an article in the Washington Times "which kindly quotes an agreement that I will have input into the question of what is a 'duck' -- i.e. tax increase, and what is not."[28]

Gingrich, as Republican whip in the House of Representatives, negotiated an agreement with then-President George W. Bush to vet any budget proposals. Under the deal, Norquist would advise on whether proposed revenue-raising proposals were in fact tax increases, or 'ducks' as Gingrich termed them. "It is fair to say, in dealing with Darman [White House Budget Director] and the administration in general on what is and isn't a duck, I would lean very heavily on Richard Rahn (chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), Jeff Eisenach and Grover Norquist ... They have a very good sense of the distinction between ducks and geese," Gingrich said.[29]

"The president has agreed the administration team will consult with the House Republicans and that for my part I will, as whip, in turn consult with these three people regarding the duck test," he said.[29]

ATR Dinner Discussions in the 1990s

While corporate funding for ATR may have been volatile, Norquist had success on another front. In a letter of invitation to Philip Morris' (PM) Washington-based Legislative Council, Beverley McKittrick, Norquist reported that during 1997, 1997, and 1998, a series of ATR-hosted dinner discussions on tax issues had all been sold out. The earlier dinners had featured speakers such as former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, Congressman John Kasich, and Congressman Bill Thomas.

Norquist offered McKittrick a subscription to the 1999 series of six dinners -- with Congressmen Armey, Chairman Archer, and Speaker of the House Denny Hastert amongst the invited speakers -- "for a modest contribution of $10,000."

"Only 24 business leaders will be in attendance," Norquist assured McKittrick. The series of dinners, Norquist wrote, were chaired by Bill Roesing of Seagram & Sons and co-chaired by Chuck Crowders of Lucent Technologies.[30]

By 1999, PM's contribution to ATR had grown to $160,000.[31] The Tobacco Institute contributed another $10,000 in 1999.[32]

In March 1999, Norquist actively lobbied members of the Senate Budget Committee in defense of the tobacco industry. "The Tobacco industry is a lawful industry subject to an excessive tax burden, already 41 cents per packet to state governments for reimbursement of smoking related illness and over a dollar per pack taxes (depending on the state, some taxes are much higher). That is already a one-third tax burden on a legal product. Furthermore, they employ thousands of Americans, which educates, feeds and clothes families across this nation," Norquist wrote.[33]

The following week, ATR claimed to legislators that a Senate Budget resolution seeking to remove the tax-deductibility of payments made by the tobacco industry to settle the legal actions taken against it by State Attorneys General would breach ATR's "Taxpayer Protection Pledge." The second paragraph of the pledge, ATR said, required supporters to "oppose any further reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar further reducing tax rates."[34]

ATR's role also extended to facilitating the introduction of one Republican political aspirant to RJR. "Bethany Noble from Americans for Tax Reform will be bringing Kevin Kellems (Republican candidate to oppose Baron Hill in Ind. 9) by for a brief visit at 3.00 today. Kellems is a tobacco farmer, and has a pretty fair shot at unseating Hil," Donald Foreman, an RJR staffer, wrote in an email to his colleagues.

There was potential for embarrassment, however, as RJR had donated $500 to Hill. Despite this, Foreman suggested that "this is a race we may want to keep an eye on and see how it look [sic] in a few months."[35]

A 1999 RJR Corporate Affairs plan identified one of the key strategies as being to "mobilize key third party groups (such as Americans for Tax reform, CART, NSA and others) to ensure that RJR's message is effectively communicated, reinforced and understood by key opinion leaders."

"We seek forums, in the media or with third parties who help us fight onerous legislation/regulation, to balance hyperbolic accusations of well financed critics whose credibility with key audiences is greater than hour," the document stated.[36]

Nationalization of Virginia State Tax Issues

Starting in 2004, ATF launched a national letter-writing campaign to persuade Virginia legislators to fight Democratic Governor Mark Warner's plan to raise taxes to maintain the state's AAA bond raising and meet commitments to K-12 and higher education funding, among other purposes. Warner had inherited budget shortfalls from his predecessor, Republican George Allen and had already cut spending to avoid a deficit.[37]

When 34 Republican legislators worked with Virginia’s Democratic governor to secure passage, they issued a "Virginia's Least Wanted" poster targeting those Republicans. On April 24, 2005, ATF issued a press release touting those legislators that had signed a pledge not to increase taxes.[38]

On June 15, 2005, after the state primary, ATR issued a press release claiming that "Taxpayer advocates believe the two scalps they claimed last night – those of Gary Reese (H-67), who was defeated by newcomer Chris Craddock, and James Dillard (H-41), who retired rather than face a strong challenge from Michael Golden – are only their latest wins against the pro-tax 'Republicans.' Last September, Sen. Ken Stolle (S-8) was denied a seat in Congress because of his pro-tax vote; anti-tax Delegate Thelma Drake took the seat in Congress instead. In the special election to succeed Thelma Drake, Republican Michael Ball lost by less than 100 votes because he tried to finesse the tax issue."[39]

However, the strategy may have backfired. Both the Dillard and Reese seats, which had been Republican, ended up as Democratic seats in the general election. In fact in the Craddock-Caputo race in Virginia's 67th District, Norquist became a target in the campaign.

Tax and Spend ... for War

Shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City, the New Republic reported that Norquist had been working to broker a "strange alliance" between the Republican Party and radical Islam.[40] In February 2003, however, ATR weighed in to support the Bush administration's war drive against Iraq. According to the New York Times, "Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said his organization had sent every state legislature a proposed measure for adoption the day fighting starts that supports Mr. Bush's actions."[41]

KStreetProject.com

K Street Project is "non-partisan research of political affiliation, employment background, and political donations of members in Washington DC's premier lobbying firms, trade associations, and industries." Ironically, it shares its name with the project by the Republican Party to pressure Washington lobbying firms to hire Republicans in top positions, and to reward loyal GOP lobbyists with access to influential officials. That projects was launched in 1995, by Republican strategist and ATF founder Grover Norquist working with former House majority leader Tom DeLay.

While many of the resources on this site appear non-partisan, there is also a prominent link to Daniel J. Flynn's report on liberal bias in higher education.[42]

Author of Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas (Crown Forum, 2004) and Why the Left Hates America: Exposing the Lies That Have Obscured Our Nation's Greatness (Prima Forum, 2002). The latter is a Crown imprint which publishes conservative, current event titles. such as Flynn, Ann Coulter and L. Brent Bozell III, founder and president of the Media Research Center.[43] Flynn served from 1994-1997 as program officer for Young America's Foundation, from 1997-2003 as executive director of Accuracy in Academia, and from 2004-2005 as director of the Campus Leadership Program at the Leadership Institute.[44]

Ronald Reagan Legacy Project

The Ronald Reagan Legacy Project is a project of Americans for Tax Reform. It is a project to put Reagan's image on U.S. ten dollar bill and to "dedicate more things after Reagan." It promotes a Ronald Reagan Day and naming landmarks after Reagan. [45]

Property Rights Alliance

This group works to influence legislation in opposition to the estate tax, environmental protection, licensing restrictions, Federal purchase of land for national parks and wildlife areas, broadcast requirements for "multicasting" and drug importation, as well as seizure by eminent domain.[46]

Alliance for Worker Freedom

The "Alliance for Worker Freedom" is a "special project" of Americans for Tax Reform. The name is really a misnomer, as the Alliance opposes unions. At the Web site of the AWF, it says "AWF works to raise awareness of labor union abuses within the political system by educating movement conservatives on the threats to liberty posed by labor unions." AWF opposes collective bargaining.[47] AWF opposes the Employee Free Choice Act.[48]

The Media Freedom Project

The Media Freedom Project was a partner project of Americans for Tax Reform, operating from a now defunct website.[49]

The American Shareholders Project

This now defunct project had the mission of providing a "voice to people...in the public policy debates that impact" savings and investments. This included opposition to the estate tax and a "fairer, simpler", e.g. less progressive tax rate. Other former endeavors included, fighting net neutrality, opposing limitations on "grassroots" internet lobbying, extending lower taxes on capital gains and dividends, supporting Samuel Alito for Supreme Court, and supporting the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).In their words, "Approving CAFTA will reward the democracies in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic for rejecting the Communists, and will send the message to the region and the world that those who adopt free market policies will prosper, and those who adopt Leftist anti-American protectionist policies will fail."[citation needed]

Contact Information

Americans for Tax Reform
1920 L Street NW
Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 785-0266
Fax: (202) 785-0261
Email: friends AT atr.org
Press contact: John Kartch, jkartch AT atr.org
Website: http://www.atr.org/

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch articles

External Articles

References

  1. Americans for Tax Reform, About Americans for Tax Reform, organization website, accessed May 22, 2013.
  2. Noble Ellington, National Chairman Of ALEC Responds To Report, "Fresh Air" Interview with Terry Gross, NPR, July 21, 2011.
  3. American Bridge, Center to Protect Patient Rights Financial Records, ConservativeTransparency.org, accessed June 24, 2014.
  4. GuideStar, Americans for Tax Reform 2010 Form 990, GuideStar.org, accessed June 24, 2014.
  5. American Bridge, Center to Protect Patient Rights Financial Records, ConservativeTransparency.org, accessed June 24, 2014.
  6. Kim Baker, The Dark Money Man: How Sean Noble Moved the Kochs' Cash into Politics and Made Millions, Pro Publica, February 14, 2014.
  7. American Bridge, Claude R. Lambe Foundation Financial Records, ConservativeTransparency.org, accessed June 24, 2014.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Rachel Bade, Norquist, Koch group take on Tennessee Republicans for tax sin, Politico, March 24, 2014.
  9. Marc Gravitt Praises Effort to End Hall State Income Tax, The Chattanoogan, March 4, 2014.
  10. Niraj Chokshi, The Koch brothers take on Tennessee's Republican governor, Washington Post, April 12, 2014.
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  12. Center for Worker Freedom, About, project website, accessed May 20, 2014.
  13. Timothy Noah, Why Has Grover Norquist Entered the Union-Busting Business?, MSNBC, February 19, 2014.
  14. Steven Greenhouse, Outsiders, Not Auto Plant, Battle U.A.W. in Tennessee, New York Times, January 28, 2014.
  15. Matt Patterson, Americans for Tax Reform, Center for Worker Freedom Launches Anti-UAW Billboard Campaign in Chattanooga, organizational blog, February 4, 2014.
  16. Kevin Drawbaugh and Nick Carey, Thirteen billboards, one paint-shop worker helped defeat union at VW plant in Chattanooga, Reuters, February 22, 2014.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, CREW Files IRS and DOJ Complaint Against Americans for Tax Reform and Grover Norquist, organizational website, November 19, 2013.
  18. Adam Radman, Current List of Taxpayer Protection Pledge Signers for the 112th Congress, Americans for Tax Reform, November 5, 2010.
  19. Adam Radman, Current List of Taxpayer Protection Pledge Signers for the 112th Congress, Americans for Tax Reform, November 5, 2010.
  20. Chris Good, Norquist's Tax Pledge: What It Is and How It Started, ABC News, November 26, 2012.
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  28. Grover Norquist, Progress on the Anti-Tax Front, Americans for Tax Reform, May 25, 1989.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Ralph Z. Hallow, House 'Duck Hunters' Given Tax-Bill Hammer, The Washington Times, April 20, 1989.
  30. Grover Norquist, Letter to Ms . Beverly McKittrick, Americans for Tax Reform, February 2, 1999.
  31. The Tobacco Institute, 1999 Public Policy Contributions, organizational document, May 3, 1999.
  32. The Tobacco Institute, 1999 Budget - State Activities Division, organizational document, August 27, 1998.
  33. George Norquist, Letter to Senator Olympia Snowe, Americans for Tax Reform, March 13, 1999.
  34. Americans for Tax Reform, SPECTER/HARKIN amendment to S.CON RES 20 Violates Taxpayer Protection Pledge, organizational document, March 24, 1999.
  35. Donald Foreman, Ind. 9, email, October 26, 1999.
  36. RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, Mission Statement Review, organizational document, 1999.
  37. The Washington Post, Virginia's Money Plans, organizational chart, 2004.
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  39. Americans for Tax Reform, Taxpayers Win in Virginia Primaries, press release - accessed through the Wayback Machine, June 15, 2005.
  40. Franklin Foer, Fevered Pitch, New Republic, November 12, 2001.
  41. Michael Janofsky, Antiwar Sentiment in County Seats and City Halls, The New York Times, February 1, 2003.
  42. kstreetproject, Is a Dedicated Server Worth What You Pay?, organizational report, (no date listed).
  43. The Crown Publishing Group, Crown Forum, organizational website, accessed May 23, 2013.
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  49. Media Freedom Project, Home, organizational website - accessed by the Wayback Machine, archived January 26, 2009.