Blog — Ethics
Every year, the Tax Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan tax research organization based in Washington D.C., holds a dinner affectionately referred to as “Tax Prom.” At the event, the organization distributes Distinguished Service Awards to “individuals who have made notable contributions to the field of tax policy.” Usually, at least one elected official is honored. In 2013, the honorees were Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), then-Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), and Russell Sullivan, the former staff director for the Senate Finance Committee.
The event serves as a striking example of how major corporations are not living up to their disclosure requirements under federal lobbying law. Organizations that lobby are required to disclose contributions made to pay for “an event to honor or recognize” certain legislative and executive officials such as senators, but the vast majority sponsoring the 2013 event honoring Sens. Hatch and Baucus failed to do so.
Thirty-two of the organizations listed as sponsors on the Tax Foundation’s website filed lobbying contribution forms in 2013 with the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate, but only five of those companies disclosed their financial support for the Tax Foundation’s annual dinner, according to an analysis by CREW. The dinner was sponsored by a cross-section of corporate America, including big names like American Express, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart.
CREW examined the list of 2013 annual dinner sponsors listed on the Tax Foundation’s invitation for the 2014 annual dinner. CREW then searched the lobbying contribution databases maintained by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives to determine whether the company had filed lobbying contribution disclosure forms, known as LD-203 forms, for 2013. Thirty-two of the companies on the Tax Foundation’s website filed LD-203 forms in 2013. CREW checked to see whether these companies disclosed their contributions to the annual dinner. Since the annual dinner takes place in November, CREW also checked lobbying contribution filings for 2014.
Failure to Comply
Dinner sponsors are listed in tiered categories, ranging from “benefactors” to “bronze” sponsors. Though the Tax Foundation’s webpage for the annual dinner does not describe the contribution levels for each tier, a registration page for the 2012 dinner lists “benefactors” as contributing $30,000 and “bronze” sponsors as contributing $6,000. The dollar figures disclosed by the few companies who did report the contributions for the 2013 dinner generally align with the 2012 contribution levels.
In 2013, only two companies were listed as “benefactors”: Emerson and Praxair. Neither disclosed any honorary contributions to the Tax Foundation in their lobbying reports. Five organizations were listed as “platinum” sponsors: the Business Roundtable, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, General Electric (GE), and PricewaterhouseCoopers (Pwc). Pepsico and GE each reported contributing $18,000 to the Tax Foundation in honor of Sens. Baucus and Hatch, but the Business Roundtable, Coca-Cola, and PwC did not make similar disclosures.
None of the companies listed as “gold” sponsors reported contributions to the Tax Foundation. These include Altria, Caterpillar, DCI Group, Merck & Co., Microsoft, McGuireWoods, and United Technologies. Koch Industries was also a “gold” sponsor. Koch Companies Public Sector, which represents Koch Industries, did not disclose the contribution either.
Just two “silver” sponsors reported their support for the dinner: Hewlett Packard reported a contribution of $6,000 to the Tax Foundation and General Motors disclosed contributing $8,000. Other silver-level sponsors include American Express, Amgen, ExxonMobil, KPMG LLP, Kraft Foods, Miller & Chevalier Chartered, Pfizer Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and Weyerhaeuser, all of which failed to disclose any payments related to the event in their lobbying contribution reports. U.S. Steel Corporation was the only “bronze” sponsor to report its support of the dinner, disclosing a contribution of $3,600 to the Tax Foundation. Other bronze-level companies that failed to disclose contributions to the group are Abbott Laboratories, ConocoPhillips, Lockheed Martin Corporation, New York Life Insurance, and Shell.
Not an Isolated Incident
This is not the first time CREW has found widespread failures in corporate lobbying disclosure. In September 2013, CREW reported that two-thirds of the contributions to the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee from organizations registered to lobby were omitted from lobbying contribution disclosure filings. As CREW noted at the time, lobbying contribution disclosure forms are the only way companies are required to disclose sponsorship of events or contributions made in honor of government officials to the public. The failure of so many companies to disclose their support of the Tax Foundation’s 2013 dinner make clear the problems with corporate disclosure extend beyond the presidential inaugural committee.
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