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Billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn shows off a planned casino

Billionaire Steve Wynn shows off the plans for a casino in Everett during a press conference in Medford, Massachusetts on March 15, 2016. (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Billionaire Donor's Advice to GOP: Ramp Up Lies About Democrats' Tax Policies to Win Senate

"Democrats should jump on this," a pair of commentators argued in response to new comments from Republican megadonor Steve Wynn.

Jake Johnson

Leaked audio obtained this week by Politico revealed that billionaire casino magnate and GOP megadonor Steve Wynn recently offered Republicans a bit of messaging advice as they attempt to win back control of the Senate: Amplify the lies about Democratic tax policies.

During a Wednesday conference call hosted by the Republican National Committee, which is seeking to wrangle big-money donors amid internal concerns that the party's Senate chances are dimming, Wynn recommended "hard-hitting" ads with scripts warning ominously: "They're coming after you if you're a waiter, if you're a bartender, if you're anybody with a cash business... they're coming after you."

Wynn, a once highly prominent figure who has been accused of sexual assault and illegal lobbying, didn't specify which Democratic tax policies he was referencing. But Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, told the Washington Post Thursday that Wynn's suggested messaging resembles GOP attacks on increased funding for the Internal Revenue Service, which Republican lawmakers have systematically deprived of resources for years—a major boon to rich tax-dodgers and large corporations.

"The lack of resources prevents the IRS from ensuring that large and sprawling operations pay their full tax bill," Rosenthal said in an interview with the Post's Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman. "The point of increased enforcement is to pursue these businesses."

Wynn's advice came after the GOP had already launched hysterical attacks on the $80 billion in IRS funding included in the newly enacted Inflation Reduction Act, which passed both chambers of Congress this month without a single Republican vote. In floor debate over the package, House Republicans falsely claimed the funding would enable "robbery" by gun-wielding IRS agents.

In reality, the money will go toward ensuring the agency is capable of mundane tasks—such as answering phone calls—as well as giving it the capacity and resources to audit ultra-rich taxpayers whose returns have gone under-examined for years.

Earlier this year, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse published an analysis showing that the IRS audited low-income wage earners at a rate five times higher than everyone else in Fiscal Year 2021, a trend the agency has blamed on the higher costs of auditing wealthier taxpayers.

In a letter to the IRS chief earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen specifically instructed the tax agency to use the new funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to "increase equity in the tax system by enforcing the tax laws against those high-earners, large corporations, and complex partnerships who today do not pay what they owe."

As Rosenthal put it to the Post, "Wynn is trying to push Republicans to scare the little fish into thinking the IRS is targeting them, when in fact the IRS has pledged to target the big fish."

Sargent and Waldman argued in a column Thursday that "it's pretty revealing for Wynn to be urging Republicans to attack those policies by arguing that their real victims will be waiters and bartenders."

"Democrats should jump on this," they wrote.

According to Politico, the 36-minute conference call also featured Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel begging rich donors to inject funding into Senate races as GOP leaders openly raise doubts about the party's prospects of retaking the upper chamber in November.

Recent polling in the key battleground states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, for example, shows that Democratic candidates John Fetterman and Mandela Barnes have opened up leads against their Republican opponents.

"Please help us invest in these Senate races specifically," McDaniel told donors on the call. "Give to any of these Senate candidates, all of these Senate candidates if you can, so all of them can be on TV."

Politico reported that Wynn "asked whether there are any dark-money nonprofits that contributors could give to."

Donors, he said, "are self-conscious for reasons that are personal to them, business people and folks like that."

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