One thing about being an editor of five newspapers is that I’m never at a loss for press releases in my email box — or, as in my case, the six email addresses I maintain.
As is tradition, last week, I was being inundated with the typical press release gauntlet through which I go each day when one really caught my eye.
Part of the reason this one caught my eye is because I was already working on a column regarding this topic. If you’ve been living under a rock or relying solely on social media to deliver your news, you may have missed ProPublica’s blockbuster report using leaked data to show how some of the nation’s richest people are contributing nothing in taxes, thanks to loopholes instated over the years. Included in these individuals are such big names as Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Carl Icahn and George Soros.
Some of these individuals, with net worths in the billions of dollars, paid zero taxes in some of the years that were provided to ProPublica. There’s a lot of reasons this is happening, and if you’re really interested in the ins and outs of this, I recommend both ProPublica’s reporting as well as a recent episode of the New York Times’ podcast “The Daily,” which focused on this very issue.
So, here I was writing a column about how this issue impacts us all and how morally and ethically wrong both these individuals and those who enabled them (the federal government) are to put the burden of funding the government on those much lower on the economic scale when I received a statement from U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on the topic.
“Wow,” I thought to myself as I opened the email. “It would take a gutsy move on McConnell’s part to be sure to come out and call for Congress to start closing these loopholes and force these billionaires to pay their fair share.”
I have to say, the shock I felt upon reading this press release was palpable. I wasn’t surprised, but I was absolutely floored.
Instead of decrying the fact that billionaires were dodging taxes that burden both the poorest and richest of McConnell’s constituents, the senator took aim at the leakers.
“One week ago today, the personal financial information of several prominent Americans was made public in only the latest leak of sensitive data from the Internal Revenue Service,” McConnell said in the statement. “Or, to put it another way, it appears that an anonymous source committed a felony by releasing the confidential information of American citizens, which a media outlet then published. Now, the way this leak has been covered in the press may not suggest it, but the most alarming part isn’t whose information was involved. It’s how it was allowed to happen at all.”
OK, I’ll bite. It’s not right that personal information was leaked. I get that. But, that being said, this information is also of such importance that to ignore it or to completely focus only on the actions of the leaker borders on criminal in and of itself.
Here's why: We stand in this nation on several fault lines that are constantly shifting. The divisions amongst us as a people are growing. Several of these fault lines are along lines of economics. The fact that the aforementioned billionaires are shifting the entire burden of supporting the government of this nation onto those who make less (which is pretty much all of us).
And let’s not forget that these individuals — Bezos, Soros, etc. — are also often pulling the very strings of the government that they do not support through the taxes we’re all expected to pay. Don’t assume they’re not paying for the government; it’s just more in the same way that an auto parts manufacturer sponsors a NASCAR racer.
And so, when we hear screaming about the need to cut “entitlement programs” — read: Help people live considering the burdensome taxes they pay on every paycheck — perhaps Washington and McConnell ought to take a look at the share of the burden not being pulled by these individuals.
Again, McConnell’s not wrong in one respect — no one wants their personal information leaked. But, then again, when you’re committing acts that are so unethical as to border on criminal, then perhaps privacy should be one of the least of your concerns.
Maybe before issuing one of these missives, McConnell should take the time to see what the people who elected him to office — not selected him for office — think about the issue. Also, before McConnell wants to paint every issue as conservatives vs. liberals, perhaps he should poll his more wealthy constituents back home about what they think about Jeff Bezos being able to avoid the capital gains tax while they themselves can’t.
Just a thought.