George Will Promoted “Key Issue” Of Lobbying Group Two Weeks After Keynoting Its Conference

George Will promoted a “key issue” of a lobbying group in his Washington Post column just two weeks after giving the keynote address at its conference.

Journalism ethicists have recently raised concerns about Will's ethical practices, and have urged greater transparency and disclosure in his Post columns. Will has been criticized for failing to reveal his connections to Wisconsin's conservative Bradley Foundation, and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a massive political group backed by the industrialist Koch brothers.

Will wrote an August 15 Washington Post column criticizing the “distracting crusade against the minor and sensible business practice called 'inversion,'” in which corporations leave the United States for a country with a lower corporate tax rate. He added that a “sensible corporate tax rate would be zero. This is so because corporations do not pay taxes, they collect them, necessarily passing on the burden as a cost of doing business. And studies suggest that corporations' workers bear a significant portion of the burden.”

Will gave the keynote address to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) Retail Advocates Summit on July 30 in Washington, D.C. NRF is a trade and lobbying organization that represents  “the interests of the retail industry through advocacy, communications and education.” The group's annual DC summit brings “retailers who are passionate about policies they believe in can come to Washington to be advocates for change.”

The summit listed as one of its “key issues” “Lower business tax rates,” writing that “Corporate tax reform would benefit retailers in a number of ways, like allowing companies to make decisions based on business strategies rather than tax implications and increasing investment and job creation by passing along tax reduction to their customers.”

NRF states on its website that it “has led the retail industry's push for tax reform and is an original steering committee member of the RATE Coalition, which represents a broad range of industries dedicated to the issue. In the course of dozens of meetings with lawmakers, policy experts and opinion leaders, and through reports and testimony, NRF has emphasized that reform of the existing tax system--not bumper-sticker proposals to abolish the IRS or scrap the tax code--is the proper path to economic prosperity.”

The lobbying group posted a July 22 public policy article arguing that inversions are “evidence of the need for the United States to reform its federal tax system” in the form of lower corporate taxes.

Will, who is also a Fox News contributor, is represented by Washington Speakers Bureau, which lists his fee as "$40,001 & up." NRF did not respond to a request for comment. 

The Society of Professional Journalists recently updated its Code of Ethics to include new provisions regarding transparency. The group's ethics chair cited Will's AFP disclosure failure as an example of a conflict journalists should attempt to avoid.