Estate Tax Foes Attempt to Enlist Religious Conservatives

It seems old Dick Patten at the American Family Business Institute (AFBI) is up to his old tricks again, trying to scare people about the estate tax with lies and distortions in an attempt to gin up support to kill the tax in Congress. This time, though, he's adopted pious language to spread the gospel of the "evils" of the tax among religious conservatives.

Christian Soldiers Unite

In a recent article, Rebecca Foerg-Spittel over at Campus Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress, details the interesting press conference Patten headed up last week at the offices of the conservative Family Research Council (FRC). During the event, according to Foerg-Spittel, Patten "weaved a strange and tenuous web among business, church, and social structure" in an attempt to portray the estate tax as a tool government uses "to take things away from 'us' (Read: evangelical Christian family business owners) – property, spirituality, and a way of life."

After quoting scripture to portray one's inheritance as a "sacred right," the AFBI executive director really goes out on a limb:

According to Patten, the original Hebrew word for inheritance refers to both spiritual and physical inheritance. Thus, when the government takes away from one’s physical inheritance, it takes away from a sort of spiritual inheritance as well.

And to drive home the point to his FRC audience, Patten claimed – I'm not kidding – "Sixty percent of family businesses are owned by evangelical Christians." Foerg-Spittel did a little fact checking and, big shock, couldn't find any published data to support Patten's claim.

Foerg-Spittel also amply dissects the anti-estate tax argument in her piece:

The right claims both that the tax is a needless attempt to prey on one’s lifelong earnings, and that it is particularly severe on small business, but given that the estate tax only kicks in for inheritances over $3.5 million, the right's argument that this is a populist cause becomes more tenuous.

She's absolutely right, in fact, Citizens for Tax Justice released its latest report in December detailing the effects of the estate tax and concluded that only 0.7 percent – less than one percent – of estates faced any estate tax liability in 2008. Because estate tax exemption levels increased from $2 million in 2008 to $3.5 million in 2009, the percentage of estates facing tax liability in 2009 will be even lower.

Patten may believe that he can incite a Third Great Awakening with his calls to defeat the "evil" estate tax, but his arguments are so hackneyed and boilerplate that they don't get past even a mild amount of scrutiny. Of course, that's never stopped him before.

Image by Flickr user rossaroni used under a Creative Commons license.

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