DES MOINES -- U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was largely unfazed by a news report that shows some of the country’s wealthiest individuals paid little and in some years no income tax, and showed more concern for how the confidential tax information was leaked to the media outlet.
ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism site, on Tuesday reported that some of the wealthiest Americans — Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett and others — paid little to no income tax over multiple years.
Grassley, during his weekly conference call with Iowa reporters on Wednesday, expressed concern for how the tax information was acquired by ProPublica. In a corresponding article, the site said it obtained the trove of information from an anonymous source.
“(Federal law) protects (any individual’s) information at IRS just like it would Bezos’. And this stuff shouldn’t have been leaked in the first place,” Grassley said.
Grassley said he has no problem with pursuing any individual who has not paid legally owed taxes, but also said he feels the ProPublica report conflated income with wealth in order to generate “sensationally low tax rates” paid by the wealthy individuals cited in the report.
He used an example of a farmer whose land value could increase while income remains flat; that farmer’s income tax burden would not increase, even though his or her wealth did.
The ProPublica reports exactly that: in many cases, the wealthy individual paid little or no income taxes by reporting income that was a fraction of his overall wealth.
Grassley suggested he would be opposed to a wealth tax.
“I don’t have any problem at all pursuing any taxpayer, small taxpayer or big taxpayer, to collect every dollar that they owe,” Grassley said.
Nothing in the ProPublica report suggests illegal activity by those whose tax information was reviewed, as noted in a reaction released by the Patriotic Millionaires, a group of wealthy Americans who advocate for a progressive tax system.
“Many things about the ProPublica tax report are infuriating, but the most irksome thing is that none of the methods by which these billionaires avoid paying their much-needed fair share of taxes is illegal,” Disney heiress Abigail Disney said in a statement released by the group. “None of these methods is seen as unethical, not in keeping with the spirit of tax laws. Our system is fundamentally flawed because it is structured on assumptions that are flawed and even, I would suggest, immoral.”