The Real Estate Industry Pushed for $160 Billion in Tax Breaks in the CARES Act, Disclosure Filings Show

President Donald Trump hands a pen to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during a signing ceremony for the The CARES Act in the Oval Office on 27 March 2020.
House Democrats passed a largely symbolic bill on May 15 rolling back two controversial tax provisions that had been slipped into the CARES Act, the $2 trillion stimulus law that Congress passed in March with overwhelmingly bipartisan support. The two tax provisions, which remove caps on individuals’ and businesses’ ability to write off net operating losses, are expected to deliver a $160 billion windfall to the wealthiest Americans, disproportionately benefiting hedge fund and real estate investors.
While the repeal effort will likely be dead upon arrival in the Senate, where it has no support among Republicans, the Democrats’ move raises a question: How did these two massive tax breaks for the very rich get slipped into the CARES Act in the first place?
TIME’s analysis of drafts of the bills and lobbying disclosures, along with interviews with half a dozen staffers and lobbyists, show that the provisions originated with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s office, which was working with other Republicans on the committee, and were lobbied for heavily by the real estate industry, including a prominent real estate trade group, of which Jared Kushner’s family’s company is a member.
The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), which represents the apartment industry, spent $1.4 million in the first quarter on lobbying myriad power centers, including Congress and the Executive Office of the President. It listed one of the two tax provisions among its many lobbying targets.
Jared Kushner’s family’s company, Kushner Companies, is a member of NMHC’s advisory committee, according to the organization’s website. That membership appears to be the lowest level of membership and requires an annual fee of $5,000. The NMHC website also lists Avi Lebor, Kushner Companies’ director of acquisitions, as the contact for the company on the membership directory. Lebor was in prison with Kushner’s father and joined Kushner Companies after they were both released, according to Bloomberg. The Trump Organization, which will also benefit from the tax provisions, is not publicly listed as a member of NMHC.
On May 13th, just two days before Democrats voted to repeal sections of the CARES Act, NMHC hired an outside lobbying firm, Nixon Peabody, to lobby in part on “corrections to the CARES Act,” according to disclosure filings.
Both the National Retail Federation (NRF), the trade association representing the retail industry, and the Commercial Real Estate Development Association (CREDA), an organization for real estate developers, also listed “net operating losses” among their lobbying targets in the first quarter. The NRF spent nearly $1.6 million, while CREDA spent $312,000. The International Council for Shopping Centers, the trade association for shopping malls and retail, spent$320,000.

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