‘Legally?’ ProPublica releasing private tax info on richest Americans with no word on source

The left-leaning investigative journalist organization ProPublica is being ripped on social media over a report detailing private tax information on “thousands” of the country’s richest people, with many questioning how the media outlet managed to legally obtain such protected information.

ProPublica tweeted a link to its June 8 story on Saturday, which featured images of Tesla founder Elon Musk, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and the founder of his namesake news organization, Michael Bloomberg.

“ProPublica has obtained individual tax information for thousands of the wealthiest Americans. We are releasing some of this information because it is only by seeing specifics that the public can understand the realities of the country’s tax system,” the outlet said in its tweet.

In its report, ProPublica said that Bezos, who was already a “multibillionaire” in 2007, did not pay any federal income taxes. Now the richest man in the world, Bezos also paid no federal income taxes in 2011.

The outlet claimed that Musk, “the second-richest person in the world,” didn’t pay any federal income taxes in 2018, adding: “Michael Bloomberg managed to do the same in recent years. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn did it twice. George Soros paid no federal income tax three years in a row.”

The outlet continued:

ProPublica has obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years. The data provides an unprecedented look inside the financial lives of America’s titans, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg. It shows not just their income and taxes, but also their investments, stock trades, gambling winnings and even the results of audits.

Taken together, it demolishes the cornerstone myth of the American tax system: that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most. 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 is not disclosing how it obtained the data, which was given to us in raw form, with no conditions or conclusions. ProPublica reporters spent months processing and analyzing the material to transform it into a usable database,” the outlet added.

While there can be some debate over the tax laws these wealthy Americans are obviously using to pay as little as possible in federal taxes — something the vast majority of Americans try to do every single year — what is most alarming to critics of the story is how ProPublica managed to secure private tax data in the first place.

“Are you still refusing to release the data of your rich donors, whose returns you have yet won’t share?” conservative journalist Mike Cernovich wrote on Twitter.

“Felony?” another wrote.

“Good luck on all of those incoming lawsuits,” wrote another.

“This is so wrong, if not straight up illegal,” another user noted.

“Thank you for demonstrating why the IRS should not be trusted with our sensitive financial information,” remarked one more.

Another user suggested that many of the wealthy mentioned in ProPublica’s report may have avoided income taxes because of their charitable contributions.

“I don’t even need to read this to know that most if not all of those ppl contribute more than nearly every one that will read this post. I would like to see how much the person that wrote this article pays in taxes or otherwise contributes to society for comparison,” the user added.

To their credit, the ProPublica authors did mention that, but only in a passing sense.

“[T]he data obtained by ProPublica shows billionaires have a palette of tax-avoidance options to offset their gains using credits, deductions (which can include charitable donations) or losses to lower or even zero out their tax bills,” the story notes.

Bloomberg, for instance, paid an effective federal income tax rate of about 3.7 percent in 2018 on an income of $1.9 billion ($70.7 million).

“When it came to his taxes, Bloomberg managed to slash his bill by using deductions made possible by tax cuts passed during the Trump administration, charitable donations of $968.3 million and credits for having paid foreign taxes,” ProPublica reported.

Others, like Buffett, also give a great deal of money to charity. In fact, the Berkshire Hathaway founder has said he plans to give away 99.5 percent of his estate to charity when he dies.

Jon Dougherty

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