What happened to the Trump campaign promise to close a big tax loophole for Wall Street billionaires?

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed against Wall Street elites and vowed to close the carried interest loophole which allows private equity and hedge fund billionaires to pay lower effective tax rates than middle-income American families.

“I’m not going to let Wall Street get away with murder. Wall Street has caused tremendous problems for us. We’re going to tax Wall Street.” — Donald Trump, Jan. 9, 2016 in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Appearing in Louisville, KY this week at a forum with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a group of business leaders, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin vaporized that promise. Yes, he said, the Administration wants to close the carried interest loophole for hedge fund managers, but not for “other types of funds that create jobs” like private equity and real estate fund managers. The problem with that:  private equity – which might more accurately be described as destroying jobs than creating them – is in fact the primary beneficiary of the loophole.

The Administration’s double talk on closing the carried interest loophole is transparent hypocrisy. Americans are fed up with cynical, pretend measures; they want real action to get tough on Wall Street. Instead of squeezing ordinary families in the name of tax cuts for the wealthiest, real tax reform should include measures to make Wall Street pay its fair share.

The hypocrisy of Trump’s economic populism became apparent early on, as he filled top positions with former Goldman Sachs executives. Then came a series of attacks – in clear alignment with Wall Street’s interests – on regulations put in place after the financial crisis. And now, as Congress returns from recess, they are ready to continue with Wall Street giveaways.

Secretary Mnuchin’s comments came in the context of broader Administration tax proposals which promise to open up a whole new avenue of tax avoidance for wealthy Wall Street financiers. In April, the Trump Administration released a 1-page tax plan outlining the broad strokes of a proposal that would, among other things, lower the tax rate on “pass-through” businesses to 15%. This idea was portrayed by the White House and Republican leaders as a tax cut for small businesses, but more than three-quarters of the benefits would go to the top 1% according to the Tax Policy Center, while only 6.6% of all business owners would gain anything. Rather than help small businesses be competitive, Trump’s tax cut would be a gift to America’s wealthiest, including private equity and hedge fund managers, and real estate developers like Trump himself — who already enjoy a tax system rigged in their favor.

Leading the process on taxes is a group that has nicknamed itself the “Big Six.” They include Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Finance Chair Orrin Hatch, and Ways & Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady. Backed by a multi-million dollar tax overhaul campaign launched by the Koch Brothers, the Big Six have been out on the road promoting their deceptive vision as a way to help American workers.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who received $5,727,069 in contributions from the financial sector between 2015 and 2016, and helped win his chamber’s approval for a radical bill to roll back financial and consumer protections, was recently called out by a Catholic nun during a live CNN town hall for not siding with the poor and working class, “as evidenced by the recent debates around health care and the anticipated tax reform.” During the televised town hall, Ryan had to correct himself after promoting “tax cuts” instead of “tax reform.”

In spite of Republicans’ best efforts to polish their words and sell their plans as good for ordinary Americans, people see through the phony rhetoric; and what they see is a massive giveaway to Wall Street, big corporations and the wealthy. Real tax reform must include steps to make the financial services industry pay its fair share – that is the message of the Take On Wall Street campaign, a group of over 50 community groups, unions, consumer advocates and others, including Americans for Financial Reform, Communications Workers of America, Public Citizen, Institute for Policy Studies, the AFL-CIO and Americans for Tax Fairness. The coalition is calling on Congress to adopt a set of tax reform measures that would raise more than $1 trillion in additional revenue and discourage dangerous Wall Street speculation. It’s not too late for Republicans to remind themselves who it is they work for, and act in Main Street’s interests.

— Luísa Galvão

Dangerous House Bill to Deregulate Private Equity Could Enable New Fraud

At a time when private equity funds are in the news and under scrutiny by the regulators, the House is set to consider a bill that rolls back the clock to a time when private fund advisers operated in the shadows, without meaningful oversight.

The Investment Advisors Modernization Act of 2016 (H.R. 5424) would allow private funds to evade SEC examinations, and to distribute misleading and even fraudulent advertising materials. The bill also allows private funds to evade SEC examinations, and to distribute misleading and even fraudulent advertising materials. In addition, it eliminates key systemic risk information for regulators by dramatically reducing the number of funds who must report complete information on their leverage and holdings on a confidential form (Form PF) used to track risks to the financial system. Finally, the bill exempts private equity firms and hedge funds from having to provide independent confirmation that they own the securities they claim to own – a change that could open the door to the next Madoff-style Ponzi schemes.

This dangerous deregulation would put at risk the retirement savings of teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other public servants who rely on the one-quarter of funding from private equity funds in public pensions. We expect this bill will be considered by the full House of Representatives this Friday, September 9th.

The SEC has found serious investor protection issues at over half of the private equity funds they have examined. And private equity funds have come under additional scrutiny by the agency in recent weeks for disclosure violations and possible illegal fee practices. Yet the H.R. 5424 seeks to take away the very tools the SEC uses to oversee these funds.

Two of the country’s largest pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS, oppose the bill, as does the Council of Institutional Investors, an association of corporate, public and union employee benefit funds and endowments. Americans for Financial Reform has also publicly opposed the bill, as has the AFL-CIO and UNITE HERE.

We have compiled below letters of opposition to this dangerous bill, along with recent press stories highlighting investigations into and abuses by the private equity industry.

Opposition letters and other documents discussing H.R. 5424:

Recent press coverage on investigations and abuses in the private eduqity and hedge fund industry:

Three-part NYTimes series on Private Equity:

Private Equity Tries to Chip Away at Dodd-Frank With House Bill | NYTimes | September 8, 2016

Apollo to pay SEC $52.7 million for disclosure violations | PoliticoPro | August 23, 2016

SEC Probes Silver Lake Over Fees | WSJ | August 19, 2016

Platinum [Partner]’s California Oil Fields Said to Be Subject of Probe | Bloomberg | August 11, 2016

This Is Your Life, Brought to You by Private Equity | NYTimes | August 1, 2016

Private Equity Funds Balk at Disclosure, and Public Risk Grows | NY Times (Gretchen Morgenson) | July 1, 2016

HR 5424, “Investment Advisers Modernization Act,” a “Get Out of Madoff and Other Frauds for Free” Bill, Passes Financial Services Committee | Naked Capitalism | June 17, 2016

Past AFR letters regarding abuses at private equity firms:

House Subcommittee Considers Bill to Shred the SEC’s Tires

The many problems with the Investment Advisers Modernization Act

Shredded tires

While Americans for Financial Reform and our allies are busy campaigning for closing loopholes that are special privileges for private funds, the Majority on the Hill is proposing to do away with even the limited existing reporting requirements to protect investors and increase accountability.

On May 17th, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets held a hearing to discuss a bill called the Investment Advisers Modernization Act of 2016. Far from actually modernizing the industry, the bill rolls the clock back to a time when private fund advisers operated in the shadows, without meaningful oversight. The bill would enable the exploitation of investors and reduce the information available to regulators to address systemic risk by rolling back key reporting requirements, and by interfering with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s ability to investigate fraud at individual firms. (For a full breakdown of the problems with this bill, please see AFR’s opposition letter).

One of the witnesses who testified was Jennifer Taub, a Professor at Vermont Law School and author of Other People’s Houses, a book on the foreclosure crisis. Professor Taub pointed out in her written testimony that the Investment Advisers Modernization Act could not only “undermine investor protection and trust, which could inhibit or drive up the cost of capital,”  but would also “allow certain private equity advisers and other private fund advisers that have been exposed as lacking in recent SEC examinations to hide their tracks.”

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