Ivins – Congress distributes a tax break to Amway

Updated: Thursday, Aug. 7, 1997 at 15:05 CDT

By Molly Ivins
The Star-Telegram

AUSTIN — My favorite tax break in the new budget package is worth $283
million to one corporation: Amway. The company and its top leaders have
contributed at least $4 million to the Republican Party during the past
four years, so that’s a $4 million investment in campaign contributions
with a $283 million payoff for Amway.

That’s quite a deal; that’s better than 70 times your money back. Wall
Street may be flying high, but Wall Street can’t offer anything like the
payoffs people get playing the political system instead of the stock

The payoff for Amway was not in the original House or the Senate version
of the tax bill. House Speaker Newt Gingrich intervened at the last
minute to help get the special tax break inserted in the bill.

Of course, it helps that Amway has its own caucus in Congress. Yes, the
Amway caucus. Five Republican House members are also Amway distributors:
Reps. Sue Myrick of North Carolina, Jon Christensen of Nebraska, Dick
Chrysler of Michigan, Richard Rombo of California and John Ensign of
Nevada. Their informal caucus meets several times a year with Amway
bigwigs to discuss policy matters affecting the company, including
China’s trade status.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, a onetime Amway salesman, also remains
close to the company. `Mother Jones’ magazine, which has followed
Amway’s shenanigans closely, reported last fall that Myrick owes her
election to the company — almost half of her total campaign funds came
from Amway people.

The company has a curious corporate culture. It was under investigation
for 10 years by the Federal Trade Commission as a pyramid scheme. It
looks like a pyramid scheme, acts like a pyramid scheme and smells like
a pyramid scheme, but according to the FTC, is not a pyramid scheme. It
is, however, rather cult-like and extremely active politically, always in
the conservative and Republican causes.

`Mother Jones’ got hold a hilarious tape of a message sent by Dexter
Yager, one of the largest Amway distributors in the country, to his many
underlings: “If you analyze Bill Clinton’s entire inaugural address, it
is nothing but a New Age pagan ritual. If you go back and look at how it
was arranged and how it was orchestrated, he talked about forcing the
spring. So what they’re trying to do is . . . force the emergence of
deviant lifestyles, of a socialist agenda, and force that on us as
American people.”

OK, everyone knows businessmen with whacky political ideas — Texas is
crawling with them — but Amway truly stands out.

Canada has twice levied huge fines against the company for illegal
dealings ($25 million fine in 1983 and $38 million to settle a $128
million lawsuit in 1989 brought by Canada’s trade office). Meanwhile,
Amway’s next big target market is China, where it has launched a $100
million recruitment campaign.

Amway tried to get this same tax loophole passed last year as an
amendment to the minimum wage bill, but Sen. Byron Dorgan of North
Dakota shot it down. So they tried again.

You will be pleased to learn that the endless cycle of money from
special interests going to politicians who in turn write specially
tailored laws for those same special interests continues on its merry
way. In the first six months of this year, the R’s and D’s have already
raised a record amount in soft money, according to Common Cause. The
1997 amount far outpaces the amounts raised in comparable post-election
periods. For example, after the ’92 presidential race, the parties
raised only $13 million in soft money. This year, it’s $34 million and

“These numbers show there really is no sense of shame,” said Ann
McBride, president of Common Cause. “This is a system out of control.
Democrats and Republicans are out eagerly raising record amounts of
huge, unregulated and corrupting soft money.”

We see the results of this corruption in the budget package. According
to Citizens for Tax Justice, almost half the tax relief in the package
goes to the richest 5 percent of Americans: the richest 20 percent get
more than 75 percent of the benefits; the average tax cut for
middle-income families and individuals will be less than $200; the
richest 1 percent, however, will be paying $16,000 less in taxes each

The beloved readers have responded magnificently to my request for help
with a campaign finance reform slogan. There are so many (more, more,
send more; we even have an E-mail address for this project:
austinst@swbell.net) and they are so good that I plan to use a different
one with every column. Starting with:

Last modified: 18 March 1998