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Entertainers, athletes looped in to Taiwan tax benefits

Tax bill aimed at firming up U.S.-Taiwan business relationship has broad bipartisan support

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., listens during a Senate Banking subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, July 26, 2023.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., listens during a Senate Banking subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, July 26, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A pair of senators who represent cities with iconic music and entertainment scenes teamed up to aid Taiwanese artists and athletes in a widely backed bill to extend friendly tax treatment to a key U.S. ally.

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday added a section to its legislation to create tax treaty-like benefits for Taiwanese businesses, investors and workers. The new language to reduce double taxation for entertainers and athletes mimics a section of the typical tax treaty but wasn’t originally part of the bill.

It would shield Taiwanese musicians, artists and athletes and other entertainers from paying U.S. taxes if they receive $30,000 or less in pay and reimbursements during a year from work in the U.S., and it would kick in only if Taiwan offers the same benefit to U.S. entertainers and athletes.

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., added the language as part of a modified “chairman’s mark” with little fanfare. Panel members Catherine Cortez Masto and Marsha Blackburn had proposed an amendment containing the provision, which ties into their home-state interests, and the bipartisan backing and precedent in normal tax treaties made it an easy call to include without any debate.

The change is modeled after the “entertainers and sportsmen” article of the Treasury Department’s 2016 model tax treaty, which applies to theater, movie, television and radio artists as well as athletes.

Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, frequently looks to aid her state’s tourism and entertainment industry, according to a spokesperson. It’s an industry that looms large in Las Vegas, a city known for its casinos and shows.

“Nevada is home to some of the best live music and entertainment venues … in the world, and artists and entertainers should not be overburdened by being taxed twice when performing at home and abroad,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

It’s not a new cause for Cortez Masto, who also sought aid for live music venues and tourism businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has used her seat on the tax-writing Finance panel to press the IRS on issues impacting casino, hotel and restaurant workers, who also make up a powerful labor union in Nevada.

Las Vegas also has an active Taiwanese community, and the city also has played host to sporting events featuring “sportsmen” from around the world, including Taiwan. Taiwanese professional gamers took the top three spots in last year’s “King of Fighters” esports competition in Las Vegas, for example, and the city regularly hosts taekwondo, billiards and other tournaments that Taiwanese have competed in.

Casino and hotel companies are among Nevada’s largest employers. And Cortez Masto was the top Senate recipient of casino and gambling industry donations during the 2022 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org, and employees of Las Vegas-headquartered MGM Resorts International are among her top career contributors.

Cortez Masto narrowly won reelection by less than 1 percentage point in 2022, a victory that was critical to Democrats retaining control of the Senate.

Nashville interests

Blackburn, too, has strong home-state ties to the entertainment industry. 

She has long aimed to support singers, songwriters and the Tennessee creative community, having previously represented a House district that included areas surrounding Nashville for more than a decade, according to a Blackburn spokesperson.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., questions Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Daniel Werfel during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Blackburn won a coveted seat on the Finance Committee this year, and she’s looking for ways to use it to support singers and songwriters, the spokesperson said. Co-leading the effort to add the entertainer and athlete language to the Taiwan legislation fit the bill.

Blackburn has worked closely with the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group for music labels, on the Taiwan initiative, according to the spokesperson. The group lobbies on music industry issues, and Blackburn received the most donations from the group or its affiliates in the 2022 cycle for a total of $7,000, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Employees of Nashville-based Curb Records, which represents artists such as Hank Williams Jr., LeAnn Rimes, Tim McGraw and Wynonna Judd, are also among the top career contributors to Blackburn. 

It wasn’t immediately clear how popular country music is in Taiwan. But at least one U.S. pop star, Katy Perry, has been unabashedly pro-Taiwan, including a high-profile 2015 incident that reportedly got her banned from entering China.

Blackburn is up for reelection in 2024 in a solid red state. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates her race Solid Republican.

The Taiwan tax bill sailed through the Finance Committee on Thursday, but senators still need to resolve a jurisdictional dispute with the Foreign Relations panel, which oversees tax treaties and has its own version that would allow the administration to strike a treaty-like deal with Taiwan.

The Taiwan tax bill went through Finance because that panel doesn’t want to set a precedent for overriding the U.S. tax code through a mechanism that isn’t a formal treaty, according to aides.

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