Obama donor wrote ‘nonpartisan’ congressional report backing liberal tax policy

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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The author of a new nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) report concluding that tax cuts for upper-income earners in America don’t spur economic growth is a frequent donor to the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama, political donation records show.

Thomas Hungerford authored “Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945” for CRS. The report, published Sept. 14, came to a conclusion that supports Obama’s tax policy.

Hungerford’s LinkedIn profile shows he has worked at CRS since 2005. In 2008, political donation records published by the Center for Responsive Politics show Hungerford donated $3,500 to Obama’s campaign. He gave the president another $500 in August 2012. Since 2009, Hungerford has also donated $2,450 to Democratic Party organizations such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

In October 2000, when he worked as an economist for the Social Security Administration, Hungerford donated $500 to Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore.

The CRS is billed as a nonpartisan arbiter of facts and, like the Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office, exists to help members of Congress understand issues. When it writes and issues a report, it does so at the request of a member of Congress. Unless that member says publicly that he or she asked for such a report, the identity of the member or members requesting it remains confidential. CRS reports are not automatically disseminated to the public, either.

In an email to The Daily Caller, CRS spokeswoman Janine D’Addario said that the agency “provides non-partisan, objective analysis to Congress.”

“CRS employees are respected public servants of the legislative branch of the federal government, who, in service to the majority and minority in both chambers of Congress, produce objective analyses,” D’Addario said. “At CRS, employees’ personal political views or previous employment are not permitted to influence their non-partisan work for Congress.”

“There is no requirement for Library of Congress, including Congressional Research employees, to disclose their contributions to individuals or to organizations,” D’Addario added.

In a follow-up phone interview, D’Addario told TheDC that this report — like all CRS reports — went through a lengthy review process.

“He [Hungerford] does the analysis, and then the analysis is reviewed by multiple levels before the document is issued.”

“The work that CRS does for Congress is objective and nonpartisan,” D’Addario added. “To help insure that, all of the work that comes out of the organization goes through peer-review, section-review, division-review and then departmental-review. There is a multilayer review process to help ensure objectivity and nonpartisanship. This paper followed that process.”

She said the people who review Hungerford’s work “would be peer review, his immediate supervisor, his immediate supervisor’s supervisor — the manager of the division he’s in — and then CRS has a departmental review panel that reads through every piece that goes out.”

When asked who the reviewers were, D’Addario wouldn’t agree to publicly release a list of everyone involved in preparing and reviewing the report. “That could be compiled, but it’s not something I would share,” D’Addario said.

The reason she gave is “because the way we conduct our research is an in-house activity. It’s just not appropriate to share with the public.”

When pressed again on who was involved in the review process, she said, “CRS stands by the objectivity of its work. All the work we do is intended to be confidential to the Congress.”

“I don’t think I have to prove what I’ve said about CRS’ objectivity and work,” she added.

She also refused to comment when asked if anyone involved with this report has ever donated to a Republican. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on that,” she said. “Number one, I don’t know. And secondly, I don’t think — that’s about an individual’s personal business.”

The report concluded, “The results of the analysis suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth.”

“The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth,” the report continued. “The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie.”

It also argues that “the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.”

The conservative Heritage Foundation argued that the CRS report “failed” in its logic.

“In fact, these stylistic correlations prove nothing,” Curtis Dubay wrote for Heritage’s Foundry blog. “In short, the economy is more complicated than this simplistic approach can acknowledge. For the analysis to prove anything, it needed to account for countless other economic and policy factors, many specific to a given period, and determine how those factors influenced economic growth in the period in question. With this as background, the analysis would then have to isolate the effect lower rates had on growth.”

Dubay argued that CRS is normally “admirably and diligently” objective in their analyses, but that “the longstanding episodic exception has been in tax policy.”

CRS reports are only distributed to members of Congress and their staffers, who can choose to distribute them to the press, as occurred with this report.

After the report’s release, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, CNBC and BusinessWeek, among other media outlets, ran headlines touting the report. The liberal Huffington Post ran a headline that said tax cuts “linked to income inequality, not economic growth.”

Liberal advocacy organization ThinkProgress — the media arm of progressive Center for American Progress — claimed victory too.

Ryan’s congressional counterpart, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen — the ranking Democratic member of the House Budget Committee — touted the report as well.

“This report confirms that Republicans’ trickle-down economics policies lifted the yachts while the boats ran aground,” Van Hollen said in a statement to TheDC. “The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, tilted toward the wealthiest Americans, did not deliver the economic growth Republicans promised. Jobs went down while deficits shot up. Yet the GOP wants to double down on this failed approach. There are many good reasons to overhaul our out-of-date tax code — but giving bonus tax breaks to millionaires and special interests is certainly not one of them.”

Van Hollen’s press staff didn’t answer follow-up questions about whether CRS should prove the report really is nonpartisan.

A representative for Michigan Rep. Sander Levin — the ranking Democratic member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy — did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.

D’Addario said she doesn’t think the CRS owes any public explanation about the author’s Democratic involvement, since her agency serves Congress exclusively.

“It is well known certainly to the Congress — which is whom we work for exclusively — that the work of the Congressional Research Service is objective, nonpartisan and confidential,” she told TheDC. “That is well known. Our work is intended to be confidential to the Congress, but we do know our work is distributed more widely not by us but by others.”

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Matthew Boyle