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Joe Manchin’s Tax Block Could Protect the Private Equity Donors Who’ve Bankrolled Him

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This story is co-published with The Daily Poster

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, at the US Capitol in Washington DC, on February 24, 2021.
LEIGH VOGEL / POOL / AFP/Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin says President Biden’s legislation to fund infrastructure investments will go nowhere as long as it acts to fund the investments by raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. Derailing the tax hike would be a lucrative gift to both corporate CEOs in general, and to private equity giants whose executives bankrolled the lawmaker’s 2018 campaign and funded a super PAC that boosted his closely contested reelection bid.

On Monday, Manchin discussed Biden’s infrastructure plan with West Virginia MetroNews, and declared: “If I don’t vote to get on it, it’s not going anywhere.”

“As the bill exists today, it needs to be changed,” Manchin said. While Biden’s plan calls for raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, Manchin said he believes the corporate tax rate should be closer to 25 percent for the U.S. “to be competitive.”

On Monday, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told reporters the Democratic caucus and the Senate finance committee will work together to set a final corporate tax rate figure. But Manchin’s proposed change would have a huge impact on how the Biden infrastructure plan is paid for, while largely preserving a tax policy that is delivering a disproportionately huge windfall to a tiny handful of executives at major corporations.

Last month, The Daily Poster reported on a recent study by Grinnell College economist Eric Ohrn showing that for every dollar that publicly traded firms reap from corporate tax cuts, “compensation of the firm’s top five highest paid executives increases by 15 to 19 cents.” That study preceded last week’s disclosure that 55 publicly traded corporations paid zero corporate taxes last year.

Manchin’s move could also particularly benefit private equity firms that have converted from partnership structures to C Corporations to take advantage of President Donald Trump’s tax law, which dropped the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

Such conversions allow private equity firms to attract capital from a wider array of institutional investors who may not have been permitted to invest in partnerships. But private equity firms had not converted until a lower corporate tax rate made the switch even more profitable. The conversions are effectively permanent.

Ares Management was the first private equity giant to convert from a partnership structure to a C Corporation. The firm’s executives were together among his top donors during his 2018 reelection bid. In all, they funneled more than $21,000 to his reelection campaign that year, according to federal records reviewed by The Daily Poster.

Data compiled by OpenSecrets show that was part of more than $212,000 that the private equity and investment industry delivered to Manchin during an election cycle in which he was given a “small business investment” award by a major private equity group that has been lobbying on tax issues.

The Blackstone Group and the Carlyle Group have also converted from partnerships to C Corporations. Executives from those firms donated $4.4 million to Senate Democrats’ super PAC, Senate Majority PAC, during the last two election cycles, including $1.3 million in 2018 when Manchin was reelected with the group’s support.

Changing the tax rates now could eat into these private equity firms’ profits. Ares, Blackstone, and Carlyle have all recently lobbied on federal tax issues, according to the most recent federal disclosures.

While Manchin has been fighting to keep the corporate tax rate low, Ares has been explicitly warning investors that “any substantial changes in domestic or international corporate tax policies, regulations or guidance, enforcement activities or legislative initiatives may adversely affect our business.”

There was initially talk of Biden’s tax plan including provisions to close the so-called private equity tax loophole, but that language was excluded from the initiative.

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