Silicon Valley all in on tax reform
Silicon Valley is racing to support and shape President Donald Trump’s multitrillion-dollar tax proposal, despite months of distancing itself from his policies on everything from immigration to climate change.
The Republican proposal to slash corporate tax rates and ease taxation of companies’ overseas earnings has vast implications for the tech industry, which counts the wealthiest companies on earth among its ranks. The companies have responded by marshaling an army of lobbyists, some with connections to a Trump administration that many of their customers and liberal employees loathe.
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Tech companies tapped 546 tax lobbyists in the first half of 2017, more than during any of the previous six years, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
No other policy issue facing tech companies in Washington — and there are many of late — stands to have as great an impact on their businesses as an overhaul of the tax code. Tech giants want Congress not only to chop the corporate tax rate but to allow them to pay less tax if they bring back home the cash they hold abroad. Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, Google’s parent Alphabet and Oracle top the list of U.S. companies with the biggest overseas cash piles, according to Bloomberg data compiled in June. Apple alone has a staggering $246 billion in cash outside the U.S.
Those numbers help explain why the tech sector — despite its frequent fractures with Trump — has resisted calls to fully disengage from the administration: It needs to keep a foot in the door as Republicans draft and usher through their plans for a major tax overhaul.
“There are also times where we disagree with their point of view and where they want to take policy, and we speak up at that point,” said Linda Moore, the CEO of TechNet, an industry advocacy group. But she added: “We do want to support them on tax reform. That is a great example where: ‘We’re behind you 100 percent. What can we do to help you get that done?'”
That stance doesn’t sit well with liberal activists who have been urging Silicon Valley to abandon Trump since the earliest days of his administration.
“Tech companies like to paint themselves as innovative, ethical and inclusive institutions. However, when it comes to tax reform, many are tempted to follow their bottom line in a corporate free-for-all,” said Reem Suleiman, a senior campaigner with the progressive group SumOfUs.org. “So Silicon Valley has a dilemma: Stand up for the values it touts, or take advantage of Trump’s corporate coup over our democracy.”
On the lobbying front, tech firms have sought out Trump-connected lobbyists for tax and other issues. Amazon tapped Trump transition staffer Dan McFaul and Trump campaign fundraiser Brian Ballard, both of Ballard Partners, at the start of the year. Microsoft worked for a time with Navigators Global’s Andy Keiser, who also worked on the transition, and brought on Sextons Creek’s Bill Smith, a longtime aide to Vice President Mike Pence.
Tech CEOs have also been their own advocates. Tax reform was one of the topics discussed in June at closed-door meetings between senior White House officials and tech executives, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Industry leaders made a separate appeal directly to National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a private meeting earlier this year.