Big Tuna Scores Big in House Tax Bill

A flag flies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, as President Donald Trump meets with Senate Republican leaders. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In the aftermath of the House’s passage of its tax reform bill last week, reporters and researchers are starting to pore through the content and finding some provisions that smell… fishy.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “the House plan… would reinstate a tax break for a tuna cannery in American Samoa’s capital city.”

If that doesn’t sound like “streamlining” or “simplifying” the tax code, well, you’re right. But it does benefit the biggest campaign contributor to American Samoa’s non-voting representative, Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen. According to Open Secrets, in 2016, StarKist tuna was her biggest donor, throwing $9,300 at her. In a race that reportedly only cost her $75,000, StarKist’s donations represent a tidy chunk of change.

Rep. Coleman Radewagen got the provision inserted by directly lobbying Rep. Kevin Brady, Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and chief tax writer. Brady has received no StarKist money, though that may now change.

StarKist’s only other congressional recipient of campaign money in 2016 appears to be Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden— who is exceedingly unlikely to vote for the Senate tax bill, whether or not it contains provisions benefiting StarKist.

StarKist is owned by Korean company Dongwon Industries, which asserts that the tax credit is perhaps the deciding factor in whether it stays based in America Samoa or leaves. The company contends that in the absence of the tax credit, because of an apparent consistent drop in American demand for tuna, it would not be able to justify staying.

The tuna credit may stay or go, depending on whether the Senate can pass a tax bill, and then what provisions are agreed in conference. The Journal notes that “lawmakers have festooned the 450-page House bill and its 515-page Senate counterpart with provisions involving microbreweries, bicycle commuters, orange growers in Florida, volunteer firefighters in Maine and a company that manufactures organic salad dressing,” in addition to the tuna provision. Theoretically, all of these items may be on the chopping block, or ripe for inclusion in the final package. It’s just another reminder that tax “reform” offers something for everyone.