The Three Percenters are a far-right group who love guns and Nazis, but the term would apply just as nicely to America's richest men, who pay about that rate in federal income tax due to legal loopholes and other shenanigans. ProPublica acquired financial documents that show Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg and other multibillionaires paid about 3% or less of new income—and that's if they paid anything at all. Meanwhile, everday American taxpayers are paying between 14% and 37% of their earnings to Uncle Sam.
No one among the 25 wealthiest avoided as much tax as [Warren] Buffett, the grandfatherly centibillionaire. That's perhaps surprising, given his public stance as an advocate of higher taxes for the rich. According to Forbes, his riches rose $24.3 billion between 2014 and 2018. Over those years, the data shows, Buffett reported paying $23.7 million in taxes. That works out to a true tax rate of 0.1%, or less than 10 cents for every $100 he added to his wealth.
In the coming months, ProPublica will use the IRS data we have obtained to explore in detail how the ultrawealthy avoid taxes, exploit loopholes and escape scrutiny from federal auditors.Experts have long understood the broad outlines of how little the wealthy are taxed in the United States, and many lay people have long suspected the same thing.
But few specifics about individuals ever emerge in public. Tax information is among the most zealously guarded secrets in the federal government. ProPublica has decided to reveal individual tax information of some of the wealthiest Americans because it is only by seeing specifics that the public can understand the realities of the country's tax system.