“Fear of Obama tax hikes is driving things,” said Grover Norquist, whose Americans for Tax Reform organization will spend a record $24 million on the 2012 race.
Tax issues are a longtime and potent motivator for business participation in politics. But the interest has been magnified many times over this election year, with the nation’s debt and looming automatic tax increases and spending cuts creating strong demand for a comprehensive overhaul of spending and tax rules.
Tax policy is a leading issue for Crossroads GPS and its sister organization, American Crossroads, founded in part by GOP strategist Karl Rove, which will spend $300 million this election cycle.
It tops the list for the corporate chief executives participating in the Business Industry Political Action Committee, which has a quiet but powerful influence on congressional elections. “It is life or death,” said Bernadette Budde, BIPAC’s political director.
Groups on the left are also spending heavily, often citing fairness in tax policy — a reference to President Obama’s effort to raise taxes on the wealthy.
Getting the top 1 percent of earners to pay a larger share is one theme in the $100 million in election spending by the government workers union AFSCME.
Tax and fiscal concerns rank high at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has new television ads this week for Senate races in Wisconsin and Virginia, among 14 Senate and 40 House races in which it has been a leading investor.
In Florida, the Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads have spent $7.8 million in an effort to defeat Sen. Bill Nelson (D), a member of the Finance Committee, who wants to close tax breaks for oil companies and the wealthiest Americans.
FreedomWorks, whose motto is “Lower Taxes. Less Government. More Freedom,” has spent $2.6 million backing Nelson’s opponent, Rep. Connie Mack (R), who signed Norquist’s pledge never to support a tax increase.
In the past two weeks, a new organization called Freedom PAC has spent $2.5 million backing Mack, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas billionaire, has donated $2 million to Freedom PAC, which lists electing Mack as its top priority. Hedge fund executive Robert Mercer donated $250,000 to the cause,
Mercer’s company, Renaissance Technologies, has lobbied in the past on tax issues facing his industry. In 2010, he helped form Concerned Taxpayers of America to defeat Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, who proposed legislation to levy a tax on certain hedge fund transactions.
The potential impact of the election on tax policy came up earlier this year when Steven Law, who heads American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, told a meeting of Washington lobbyists and trade association officials that their interests on such issues as labor law, taxes and fiscal policy — on which they have spent huge amounts of time and money — could be advanced or harmed based on how the issues play in one campaign.