Jeff Bezos. REUTERS/KATHERINE TAYLOR
Jeff Bezos. REUTERS/KATHERINE TAYLOR

Several of the world’s most prominent billionaires paid minimal to no federal income tax in some years, ProPublica reported on Tuesday, citing confidential Internal Revenue Service (IRS) records it had reviewed.

The world’s wealthiest individual, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, did not pay any federal income tax in 2007 and 2011. Tesla CEO Elon Musk managed to do the same in 2018. Bloomberg founder Michael Bloomberg and investors Carl Icahn and George Soros were also shown to have paid minimal rates of federal income tax in recent years.

IRS commissioner Charles Rettig said at a Senate finance committee hearing on Tuesday that his agency is opening an investigation into the source of the information.

Between 2014 and 2018, Warren Buffett’s wealth is reported to have risen by as much as $24.3bn and he reported paying $23.7m in taxes, according to the data ProPublica reviewed, a “true tax rate” of 0.1%.

ProPublica says the data were provided to the news organisation after it published a series of articles examining the IRS. The news organisation said it didn’t know the identity of the source and didn’t ask for the information sent to it.

IRS investigation

“I can confirm that there is an investigation with respect to the allegations that the source of the information in that article came from the IRS,” Rettig said. “I share the concerns of every American for the sensitive and private nature and confidential nature of the information the IRS receives.”

ProPublica says it reached out for comment to all individuals whose taxes it describes. Buffett, Bloomberg and Icahn all told ProPublica they had paid the taxes they owed.

Michael Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

Rettig said he could not comment on the article directly or on the tax situation of any individual. Federal employees can face prison time for improperly releasing private taxpayer data.

Senate finance committee chair Ron Wyden said at the hearing, “This morning there is what appears to be a massive, unauthorised disclosure of taxpayer records.”

He said that, “given the IRS’s responsibility to protect taxpayer data, it has a responsibility to investigate the source of this disclosure”.

“This country’s wealthiest, who profited immensely during the pandemic, have not been paying their fair share,” Wyden said.

Mike Crapo, the top Republican on the Senate panel, said the ProPublica report is “very relevant” to the Biden administration’s proposal to require financial institutions to report account flows to the IRS, highlighting privacy concerns.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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