Some US billionaires had years where they paid no taxes: report

Some of the richest people in America had years in which they did not pay anything in federal income taxes, according to a report from ProPublica published Tuesday.

They include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Tesla founder Elon Musk, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and billionaire investors Carl Ichan and George Soros, ProPublica reported.

The news outlet obtained IRS data, covering more than 15 years, about the tax returns of thousands of the wealthiest Americans. ProPublica said that it obtained the information from anonymous source, that it doesn’t know the identity of the source, and that it didn’t solicit the information provided.

“The IRS records show that the wealthiest can — perfectly legally — pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, their fortunes grow each year,” ProPublica wrote. 

Bezos — currently the richest person in the world, according to Forbes — paid zero in federal income taxes in 2007 and 2011. In 2007, his income was offset by investment losses and deductions. In 2011, his income was more than offset by investment losses, allowing him to claim and receive a $4,000 tax credit for his children, ProPublica reported

From 2014 to 2018, Bezos reported $4.22 billion in income and paid $973 million in taxes. His wealth grew by $99 billion during that time, according to ProPublica.

Musk, currently the world’s second richest person, paid no federal income tax in 2018. Musk in total from 2014 to 2018 reported $1.52 billion in income and paid $455 million in taxes. His wealth grew by $13.9 billion during that time period, ProPublica reported.

ProPublica reported that “personal and corporate representatives of Bezos declined to receive detailed questions about the matter.” The news outlet said Musk didn’t respond to detailed questions.

Other billionaires mentioned in ProPublica report and their representatives said they paid all the taxes they owed.

ProPublica’s article comes as President Biden and congressional Democrats are pushing for higher taxes on the wealthy. Biden’s American Families Plan proposes raising taxes on high-income Americans in several ways, including by increasing the top rate on ordinary income from 37 percent to 39.6 percent, taxing capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income for the highest-income taxpayers and taxing capital gains at death. 

During a Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday, Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said the ProPublica report found that “the country’s wealthiest, who profited immensely during the pandemic, have not been paying their fair share.” Wyden is working on a proposal to tax the investment gains of wealthy Americans annually, rather than just when the investments are sold.

Wyden also said that the IRS needs to investigate how the taxpayer data was disclosed.

“There appears to be a massive, unauthorized disclosure of taxpayer records. The source of this information is unclear,” he said. “Given the IRS’s responsibility to protect taxpayers’ data, it has a responsibility to investigate the source of this disclosure.”

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said at the hearing that he can’t talk about the ProPublica article but can confirm that there is an investigation “with respect to the allegations that the source of the information in that article came from the Internal Revenue Service.”

Treasury Department spokesperson Lily Adams on Tuesday said: “The unauthorized disclosure of confidential government information is illegal. The matter is being referred to the Office of the Inspector General, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, all of whom have independent authority to investigate.”

The top Republican on the Finance Committee, Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), raised concerns Tuesday about a proposal from Biden to increase the amount of information banks report to the IRS about account activity, in light of ProPublica’s reporting on confidential tax data.

“The information we got today in the ProPublica circumstance is just evidence of why Americans, I think, are going to be very concerned about giving the IRS direct access to their financial data,” he said.

Updated at 4:12 p.m.

Tags Elon Musk Jeff Bezos Joe Biden Michael Bloomberg Mike Crapo Ron Wyden

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