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18 rich families pay for campaign to kill estate taxes

By Sabrina Eaton

04/28/06 "
Plain Dealer" -- -- Washington -- Eighteen of America's wealthiest families, including the Timkens of Canton, are bankrolling efforts to permanently repeal estate taxes that would save their families a total of $71.6 billion, according to a report released Tuesday by public interest groups.

Groups funded by the super-rich have engaged in a deceptive campaign to convince the public that estate taxes cause widespread problems for small businesses and family farms when they actually affect about one in 370 estates, said the report released by Public Citizen and Boston-based United for a Fair Economy.

This year, all assets under $2 million for individuals and under $4 million for couples are exempt from estate taxes. Current tax law will boost those exemptions to $3.5 million and $7 million in 2009, eliminate the estate tax in 2010, and reimpose it in 2011 with a $1 million exemption.

The House voted to permanently repeal the estate tax last year, but the measure stalled in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to override filibusters. Majority Leader Bill Frist says he will bring the bill up in May.

Ohio Republican Sen. Mike DeWine wants to repeal the tax because he says it hinders economic growth and penalizes society's most productive members, while Ohio GOP Sen. George Voinovich says the cost of eliminating it is too great: about $290 billion over the next 10 years. Voinovich would prefer a compromise to elevate the minimum threshold for estate tax liability to $3.5 million and regularly adjust it for inflation.

Groups that support estate tax repeal say they're close to getting the 60 votes they need. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform says 68 percent of Americans want the tax eliminated. He says estate taxes affect a broad range of people and dismissed the report's contention that it only affects the super rich as "tired rhetoric of hate and envy."

The groups that released the report called it a "myth" that estate taxes force families to sell farms and businesses. They said the taxes raise revenue from those most able to pay, prompt the rich to give to charity and deter concentrations of wealth.

They said families including those that founded Wal-Mart, Gallo wineries, Nordstrom's department stores, Wegman's grocery stores, the Mars candy company, Cox media chain and Campbell Soup Co. joined the Timkens in bankrolling an effort the groups' report called "one of the biggest con jobs in recent history."

The report says the 18 families financed business groups, trade associations and lobbyists to push for their goals. Information about their participation was obtained through lobbying reports and IRS forms filed by anti-tax groups, the report said.

Based on the Timken family's estimated $201.5 million stake in its company, the report predicted estate tax repeal would save its heirs about $79 million. A Timken Co. spokesman did not return phone calls.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: seaton@plaind.com, 216-999-4212

2006 cleveland.com. All Rights Reserved
 

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