On Sunday night, Donald Trump said he's not the only zillionaire to take full advantage of the many loopholes in the US tax code. Warren Buffett, he said — the world's fourth-richest person, worth an estimated $65 billion — has also taken "a massive deduction" on his taxes.
Buffett, a prominent Clinton supporter and donor, shot back today. And in true billionaire style, he did it using a company he owns: the corporate communications site BusinessWire.
In a BusinessWire press release, Buffett said he has paid federal income taxes every year since 1944, and highlighted massive charitable contributions that dwarfed his income in 2015.
"I have been audited by the IRS multiple times and am currently being audited. I have no problem in releasing my tax information while under audit," Buffett said. "Neither would Mr. Trump – at least he would have no legal problem."
Buffett said his adjusted gross income for 2015 was $11.6 million, and his charitable donations for the year hit $2.9 billion. About $3.5 million of those donations were used as tax deductions — less than 1 percent of his donations. "Tax law properly limits charitable deductions," Buffett said dryly.
Buffett said he paid $1.8 million in federal income tax and "returns for previous years are of a similar nature in respect to contributions, deductions and tax rates."
In comparison, leaked tax forms published in the New York Times, show Donald Trump reported a $916 million loss to tax authorities in the mid-1990s. He could "carry forward" that loss to offset income earned in future years, Buffett said — a move that Trump himself has said is simply smart business practice.
What Buffett pays in personal income taxes is a small portion of the wealth he accumulates every year. He’s by far the biggest shareholder in the insurance-railroad-candy-newspaper conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, which is worth some $360 billion, but even as the value of his stock in Berkshire increases, he pays no tax unless he sells it. His cash salary from Berkshire is just $100,000.
"We mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks," he wrote in a 2011 editorial calling for higher taxes on the super-wealthy. "It’s nice to have friends in high places."
Buffet said he has "paid federal income tax every year since 1944, when I was 13," although the billionaire said that "being a slow starter, I owed only $7 in tax that year."
Buffett has donated $25,000 to a Super PAC that supports Clinton and has given money to Democratic electoral efforts in the House, Senate, and the Democratic National Committee. Earlier this year gave a speech at a Clinton rally where he slammed Trump's business record, noting that his sole publicly traded company, Trump Hotel Casinos and Resorts, lost money "every year, every singe year."
"In 1995, when he offered this company, if a monkey had thrown a dart at the stock page, the monkey on average would have made 150%."
Matthew Zeitlin is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Zeitlin reports on Wall Street and big banks.
Contact Matthew Zeitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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