Conservatives indulge in massive what-about-ism after ProPublica reports leaks IRS data on ultra-rich tax cheats

Conservatives indulge in massive what-about-ism after ProPublica reports leaks IRS data on ultra-rich tax cheats
Image via Shutterstock.

A bombshell report published by ProPublica on Tuesday detailed leaked IRS filings suggesting that some of the wealthiest individuals in the U.S. pay next to nothing in federal taxes, despite reaping hundreds of millions or more in annual income. But now the report itself has become enmeshed in controversy over journalistic ethics and privacy concerns, especially the question of when it's newsworthy to reveal personal financial information of private citizens.

ProPublica's report, which relies on IRS records whose source remains unknown, provides a startling glimpse into the true extent of tax avoidance schemes among the richest one-tenth of the one percent.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, paid zero federal income taxes for both 2007 and 2011. Tesla founder Elon Musk paid nothing for 2018. Investor and liberal philanthropist George Soros also paid zilch over the course of three years.

Other billionaires detailed in the report include former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who paid $70.7 million in federal income taxes in 2017, despite claiming $1.9 billion in personal income. (That represents roughly a 3.7% tax rate, when it arguably should have been around 52%.)

Billionaire investor and businessman Carl Icahn deducted large interest payments on his companies' debts, allowing him to avoid federal income tax payments in 2016 and 2017. That scheme involved taking out large bank loans to invest in the stock market, because the interest paid on those loans is tax-deductible, offsetting investment gains and other income.

Other billionaires lowered their taxable income by claiming they had incurred net losses. In 2011, for example, Bezos alleged he had lost money, although that his wealth of roughly $18 billion held steady from the previous year. He paid no federal income taxes thanks to his "investment losses," which in fact earned him a $4,000 family tax credit.

ProPublica also reports that corporate taxes do not make up for the tax losses resulting from these billionaire tax-avoidance schemes, largely because the corporate tax rate has plummeted in recent years, in the wake of tax cuts enacted by the Republican Congress in 2017 and signed by then-President Trump. Additionally, many companies — such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple — can circumvent a large proportion corporate taxes by claiming that their profits were made abroad.

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.