The U.S. government has launched investigations following the disclosure by the media outlet ProPublica of IRS documents indicating that many of the country’s wealthiest billionaires, including Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett, pay little or nothing in personal taxes.
“Unauthorized disclosure of confidential government information is illegal,” Treasury Department spokeswoman Lily Adams said in a statement commenting on Tuesday’s publication by ProPublica.
“The matter has been referred to the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General for Tax Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, all of which have independent authority to investigate,” she added.
For her part, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki insisted that “any disclosure of confidential government information by a person with access to it is illegal and we take this very seriously.”
ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, announced that it has obtained exclusive IRS documents showing that billionaires such as Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, George Soros and Michael Bloomberg have legally avoided paying personal income taxes.
According to Pro Publica, in 2007 and 2011, Amazon founder Bezos did not pay taxes on his income, as did Tesla co-founder Musk in 2018, while Soros did not make contributions for three consecutive years.
Pro Publica also asserted that the 25 wealthiest people in the country pay, on average, far less than most workers who have Social Security and Medicare taxes deducted from their paychecks.
The agency, which said it has received numerous IRS documents on the nation’s wealthiest individuals, compared their taxes with information available from other sources.
“In each instance we were able to corroborate that the information, related to the tax returns of more than 50 individuals, provided to ProPublica corresponds with information from other sources,” it added.
The U.S. tax code is progressive, meaning that the wealthy have to contribute increasing slices of their income as it increases.
ProPublica noted that individuals earning $2 million to $5 million a year pay an average of 27.5% of those taxes, the highest share among all categories of taxpayers.
According to Pro Publica, the top 0.001% of taxpayers – some 1,400 people who reported incomes over $69 million annually – pay an average of 23%, and the 25 richest people pay an average of 15.8%.