It's awfully tough to present your party as the champion of populist fury when the centerpiece of your 2010 campaign is another $700 billion tax cut windfall for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. Which is why, as the AP reported Wednesday, GOP consultants are working overtime to recast Linda McMahon, Rick Scott, Meg Whitman and other very rich Republican candidates as regular folk. But with the wolves’ in sheep’s clothing showing their true colors over the minimum wage, unemployment benefits and retirement security, those carefully manufactured images may yet go down in flames.
Or in the case of Oregon Republican Chris Dudley, up in flames.
The son of a well-to-do family who converted his professional basketball career into providing financial advice to the gilded class, Dudley has called for slashing the state's capital gains tax rate in a move that would drain $800 million from Salem's already broken budget. Like billionaire Meg Whitman in California, Dudley would be reap a big payday from the tax cuts he proposes. Then again, Dudley was even better at gaming the tax system than playing basketball.
As the Willamette Week and later the Oregonian detailed, in 2004 Chris Dudley claimed a $350,00 tax deduction for letting the Lake Owego fire department burn down house his house in a training exercise. In a nutshell, Dudley got U.S. taxpayers to help pay for the new home he built there.
In December 2002, during the last of his 16 NBA seasons, then-Portland Trail Blazer Dudley bought a 1.81-acre property in Lake Oswego for $1.15 million. The property included a 4,900-square-foot home with four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a four-car garage...
Dudley claimed a $350,000 deduction for the house on his 2004 federal tax return. He based the value on an appraisal he supplied to WW, which says its purpose was to "establish both the overall market value of the property, and the market value of the site."
Given Dudley's career NBA earnings of more than $30 million, he probably faced a combined federal and state income tax bill of 40 percent in 2004. That means the $350,000 deduction saved him about $140,000.
And while Americans debate the morality of Tennessee firefighters watching a man's home consumed by flames over an unpaid $75 fee, Dudley's burning-down-the-house scheme has gone unnoticed.
Chris Dudley, it turns out, is the poster child for President George W. Bush’s claim that “the really rich people figure out how to dodge taxes anyway.”
As the Oregonian reported, in the 1990's then Portland Trail Blazer Dudley claimed to live across the river in Washington state. Why?
By claiming Washington residency, Dudley -- who was already earning a National Basketball Association salary before coming to Portland -- could shield any other income from Oregon income taxes, such as capital gains, investments and endorsement deals.
But as public records and interviews with former neighbors revealed, "Republican candidate for governor Chris Dudley continued to use his Portland home during the years he claimed Camas, Wash., as his residence to avoid paying thousands of dollars in Oregon taxes."
And Chris Dudley isn't content to cut business and upper-crust tax rates (including his own), as BlueOregon was among the first to document, . Another Dudley gift to business would be slashing Oregon's $8.50 minimum wage. As he explained at an Intel forum in September:
"It doesn't make sense that our waitresses are getting tips plus the highest minimum wage in the country."
When a questioner lamented that "it attracts the wrong end of the labor pool to our state," Dudley concurred by responding, ""I agree with you on that issue." But for the cell phone camera which caught the exchange, Chris Dudley confessed that his opposition to the minimum wage is the hate that dare not speak its name:
"I'm not going to make a forefront campaign issue on it because I think it's something - it's a hot button that people don't really understand."
Of course, voters do understand the Republicans’ water carrying for the wealthy; they just may not know about it. As for Dudley’s Torching for Tax Breaks, his campaign complained, “It was legal, ethical and proper and any suggestion otherwise is completely unfair to Chris Dudley.” For working Americans struggling with the foreclosure crisis, that all depends on what the meaning of “unfair” is.