Bradley targets tax loopholes, vows $124b savings

By Michael Crowley, Globe Staff, 1/5/2000

EDFORD, N.H. - Challenging big corporations and invoking his credentials as a tax reformer, former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley yesterday announced $124 billion, 10-year plan to get tough on corporate taxes.

Before New England business leaders, Bradley took aim at tax loopholes and businesses that avoid taxes through elaborate shelters and accounting gimmicks, leaving ordinary taxpayers to pick up the difference.

''When somebody has a lobbyist who gets something in the code that reduces that corporation's taxes, that means the rest of us pay more,'' the Democratic presidential candidate said.

But Bradley argued that the issue is about public cynicism as much as dollars and cents, saying lobbyist-crafted shelters and loopholes ''really erode trust in government.''

Bradley said that ''at a time of unprecedented economic growth, unprecedented corporate profits,'' corporate tax collections have dropped by 2.5 percent in the past two years, and he cited a July 1999 Treasury Department estimate saying corporate tax shelters account for $10 billion per year in lost revenue.

Companies and industries that benefit from ''abuses'' of the tax code include oil and gas companies, foreign subsidiaries of US corporations, and Amway Corp., Bradley said.

Bradley spoke at the New England Council's ''Politics & Eggs'' breakfast forum, although yesterday's event was a quiche luncheon - for which Bradley showed up nearly an hour late.

In his speech, Bradley recalled his signature achievement as a US senator: a leading role in the 1986 Tax Reform Act, which closed nearly $200 billion in loopholes and reduced overall tax rates for individuals.

While yesterday's proposal includes no cut in tax rates, its proposed savings could help insulate Bradley against Vice President Al Gore's repeated charge that his other proposals are unaffordable.

But in a statement yesterday, Gore's campaign questioned Bradley's devotion to closing loopholes: ''Like so many other issues - such as campaign finance reform and health care - Senator Bradley has seemed to discover this issue only after becoming a candidate for President.''

Underscoring its frequent charge that Bradley has catered to pharmaceutical companies in his home state of New Jersey, the Gore campaign said that in 1992 and 1993, Bradley supported a tax loophole ''bonanza'' for the drug industry.

Bradley said yesterday the $10 billion per year lost to corporate loopholes could be recovered through tougher audits of large corporations and through higher penalties on transactions designed merely to lower tax rates. Bradley also said he would impose penalties on accounting and legal firms that help companies devise such strategies.

Bradley proposed saving an additional $22 billion over 10 years by canceling tax breaks given after their beneficiaries donated large sums of unregulated ''soft money'' to the national political parties. Bradley, who has made campaign finance reform a key theme of his campaign, has called for a total ban on soft money contributions.

Bradley cited a $270 million tax break granted to Amway in 1997, just weeks after the company donated $1 million to the Republican Party. The $22 billion also would include more than $200 million per year in lost revenue by closing two 1990 tax cuts for the oil industry.

An additional $2 billion would be raised by ending federal subsidies for hard-rock mining companies and oil and gas producers and one that allows ranchers to graze livestock on federal land at reduced rates.

But speaking with reporters after the luncheon, Bradley again defended his recent support for federal ethanol subsidies, which he opposed as a senator. The corn-based fuel is popular in the key caucus state of Iowa, although critics say it is a wasteful program driven by corporate lobbying.

Gore spent the day campaigning on the New Hampshire Seacoast. Aides passed out an analysis painting Bradley's education proposals as vague and inadequate.

But Bradley said Gore's criticism was a commentary on the vice president's own campaign. ''When you can't be positive about what you're going to do, you need to be negative about what the other person does,'' Bradley said.

Globe Staff w riter Jill Zuckman contributed to this article from Somersworth, N.H.