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Trump Uses Taxpayer Money To Feed Himself

Photo by The White House

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

Buried near the end of the 5,593-page law granting new coronavirus relief is a special interest tax favor of the kind that Republican saint Ronald Reagan cut in half when he waged war on the "three-martini lunch."

This new special interest tax break is worth a lot more to business owners than the long-delayed and miserly $600 or smaller checks for most people. The Trump administration and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, once again favor business over people.

The law doubles the tax deduction for most business meals from 50 percent to 100 percent.

'It just doesn't seem right for a wage earner carrying his tuna fish sandwich to work to subsidize exorbitant business lunches at luxury restaurants.' —President Ronald Reagan

Ever since Reagan's 1986 Tax Reform Act, as a general rule, Section 274 of our tax code allowed only a 50 percent deduction for meals while traveling on business, meeting with customers, partners or associates or attending a business seminar. Employees got fully reimbursed, but employers could only deduct half, which prompted personnel policies restricting how much all but the most highly paid workers could claim for meals while on company business.

This new favor benefits most businesses, but few as much as Donald Trump, who will enjoy a double benefit. The change was introduced at the last minute at the insistence of the Trump White House. There has been no public hearing or even public debate about its merits.

Three Benefits

The 12 lines of revised tax law on Page 4,956 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 provide these tax benefits:

  1. Businesses with a lot of employers on the road or many meetings can deduct the full cost of such meals, the equivalent of a slight tax rate cut.
  2. Sole owners, like Trump, who bear the full burden of spending by their enterprises, will feel concentrated benefits. Had the provision been in effect during the last decade it would have saved me thousands of dollars in income taxes because of extensive global travel for investigations and lectures.
  3. Restaurant owners benefit because businesses will be more liberal in expense allowances.

That third point matters because as many as 85 percent of small, individually owned restaurants may go broke due to COVID-19 shutterings, restaurant industry advocates say. But these mom-and-pop operations will benefit far less overall than the kind of expensive dining establishments favored by corporate executives, sales executives and other highly paid workers.

Trump as owner of golf, hotel and restaurant businesses will benefit every time he or his employees wine and dine a customer, vendor or potential customer because he will get to deduct the entire cost of meals instead of just half.

Then he benefits again when others spend money dining at his golf resorts, hotel and restaurants because full deductibility should result in more spending on meals.

But wait, there's more.

This complete deductibility of business meals will continue from New Year's Day until the end of 2022. The pandemic is likely to be history sometime early in 2022, making clear that this tax break is not targeted at the beleaguered restaurant industry but at a return to the era of the three-martini lunch. Expect lobbying to extend the tax break.

Reagan's Tax Policy Killed

Republicans voted to level the playing field when it comes to restaurant meals in 1986. That's when Reagan championed a tax code that actually raised levies on business and reduced deductions for extravagances. Trump, who often claims Reagan's mantle, consistently promotes tax policies that would infuriate The Gipper.

Reagan said this during a June 7, 1985 meeting with economics writers at the White House:

"Why not find smarter ways to put our money to work than investing so heavily in executive lunches? It just doesn't seem right for a wage earner carrying his tuna fish sandwich to work to subsidize exorbitant business lunches at luxury restaurants.

"We'd still allow for legitimate expenses, but to those who complain they can't live quite so high off the corporate account, we can only ask: Why not brown-bag it once in a while?"

Business lobbyists, from the get-go, have been gutting the many level-the-playing field provisions Reagan championed, loading up on favors for themselves and shifting the burden onto working Americans. That includes the massive borrowing required under Trump's 2017 tax law to shower tax savings on the richest among us.

Also, under the 2017 tax law that Trump signed, his only significant legislative achievement, 20 percent of taxpayers lost the ability to deduct mortgage interest, state income tax, local property taxes and other tax breaks. The changes mostly affected married couples with three or more children, especially among the upper-middle class.

This year only about one in ten taxpayers, and perhaps as few as one in 20, will itemize deductions. But those who own their own businesses – from people operating on the scale of Trump to freelance graphic artists – will get benefits. Under Trump the tax code has become more favorable to the self-employed and business owners and less so for employees.

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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

Screenshot from azaudit.org

As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template


In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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