USA Today reports that Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton both have helped enact narrowly crafted tax breaks designed to benefit campaign contributors. The Democratic presidential candidates pushed through the tariff relief provisions despite promises on the campaign trail that they would work to limit the influence of Washington lobbyists.
Such obscure trade legislation, known as tariff suspensions, was the subject of a Washington Post investigation published in 2006. The project revealed that each year members of Congress quietly introduced hundreds of the little-known trade bills. The legislation had proliferated without public notice, delivering the breaks to favored corporations whose names appeared nowhere in the bills. The Post's calculations showed that in 2006 alone, Congress introduced more than 1,400 bills seeking tariff suspensions -- a record number that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. The analysis showed that the vast majority of the bills benefited large foreign firms, such as Bayer AG.
After the Post's article, the U.S. House and the Senate voted overwhelmingly to enact reforms. Lawmakers are now barred from personally profiting from the suspensions. Members of Congress must disclose all tariff suspensions slipped into unrelated bills. They must justify the tax breaks in writing and identify which corporations will profit and by how much. And lawmakers are barred from trading suspensions for other members' votes.
USA Today's story, by reporter Ken Dilanian, said Obama's campaign had accepted $54,350 from members of a law firm that in 2006 convinced Obama to introduce a tax provision benefiting a Japanese drug company. In 2002, the article said, Clinton introduced legislation at the request of Rienzi & Sons, a Queens, N.Y., food importer. The bill required the government to refund tens of thousands of dollars in duty charged on imported tomato products.
-- Joe Stephens
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