If the names Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue aren’t immediately familiar to you, they will be soon, as they’re the two Republican U.S. Senators facing runoff elections in Georgia on January 5 that will determine which party controls the Senate. (The Democrats need to take both to reach a 50-50 tie, which would be broken in their favor by vice-president Kamala Harris.) Loeffler is also co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, whose players have called her out for her pro-Trump and anti-Black Lives Matter stances (Loeffler wrote to the WNBA’s commissioner at one point blaming BLM for “the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure” and promoting “violence and destruction across the country”), even taking the court during pregame warmups wearing shirts endorsing Loeffler’s Senate race opponent.
So while it wasn’t surprising to see Loeffler and Perdue show up together in a ProPublica story on Friday, this one was a bit unexpected:
Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., privately pushed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to give wealthy sports owners a lucrative tax break last year, according to a previously unreported letter obtained by ProPublica…
The Treasury ultimately declined to adopt the revision Perdue sought. If the regulation had been altered as Perdue wanted, it would have been a boon for some of his largest donors. Perdue has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the owners of professional sports clubs, including now-fellow Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who co-owns Atlanta’s WNBA team, the Dream.
The tax break in question has to do with pass-through entities, which are corporations whose net profits are declared on the tax returns of the individual owners. When the GOP’s 2017 tax law cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% (among lots of other changes, including double-taxing residents of high-tax states that just happened to be mostly Democratic), it allowed many pass-through business owners to deduct 20% of their business income, effectively lowering their personal income tax rate to the lower corporate one. But not all, and one of the exceptions was owners of pro sports franchises, meaning that Loeffler was set to lose a pile of money as a result of not being included.
Enter Perdue, who as ProPublica writes with eyebrow exquisitely raised, “was not on the committee that crafted the legislation, making his in-the-weeds lobbying on the arcane regulation unusual, congressional experts said.” He did have another reason to be interested in the tax break, though:
A review of his campaign contributions shows that Perdue has taken more than $425,000 from the owners of professional sports teams and their relatives. Some of the top donors include the DeVos family, which owns the Orlando Magic; John Ingram, who owns the Nashville SC soccer team; Los Angeles Kings owner Philip Anschutz; and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.
On the same day Perdue sent Mnuchin the letter, he received $3,000 in donations from three lobbyists at GeorgiaLink Public Affairs Group, a lobbying firm that was representing the Atlanta Braves. Because of the Braves’ ownership structure, it’s unlikely the team would have been affected by the regulation, but around that time, MLB was lobbying on the rule, urging the Treasury to give its team owners the tax break.
Perdue also got $108,000 in donations from Loeffler, her husband, and her Dream co-owner Mary Brock.
Perdue’s letter ultimately went nowhere: Mnuchin didn’t direct the IRS to change the tax law to benefit sports team owners, so Loeffler’s tax bill remains undiminished. But it’s nice little moment to remember the next time you wonder how come so many corporate titans can duck paying taxes so easily: When you can ask the senator who sits next to you to write a letter to the IRS requesting you get a tax break, and enclose $108,000 in checks to sweeten the pot, that’s going to get you a lot more consideration than the average taxpayer.