Conservatives indulge in massive what-about-ism after report leaks IRS data on ultra-rich tax cheats
FILE PHOTO - Amazon President, Chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at the Business Insider's "Ignition Future of Digital" conference in New York, U.S. on December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

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.