Our Patriotic Billionaire Challenge!

UPDATED: Charles Koch answers us (and Warren Buffett) with an unequivocal no

Topics: Patriotic Billionaire Challenge, Taxes,

Our Patriotic Billionaire Challenge!

America’s second-richest person — billionaire investment oracle Warren Buffett — caused a commotion on Monday when he argued that the “mega-rich” should pay higher taxes, pooh-poohing the argument that it would drive business out of the country. Buffett himself only surrendered 17.4 percent of his taxable income to the government last year — a figure that lies toward the low end of the middle-class tax spectrum, and significantly below what upper-middle-class professionals pay. Buffett wrote:

“I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. [...] Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.”

Salon decided to put that idea to the test. We’ve contacted the other 19 wealthiest Americans — based on the Forbes 400 list — to ask if they would support paying higher federal income taxes. We quickly heard back from six, though only financier, philanthropist and Fox News target George Soros would say that, yes, he’d pay more (see his full statement below). We’ll update this post (and alert readers through Twitter and Facebook) when we have new responses. And we hope others who have the opportunity will ask them, as well.

We’ve also had five people duck out with “no comments,” but we’re still hopeful they’ll change their minds.

UPDATE (8/19/11): Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, has issued a resounding, if expected, “No” on the issue of a tax increase: ”Much of what the government spends money on does more harm than good; this is particularly true over the past several years with the massive uncontrolled increase in government spending.” (See his full response below.)

Credit where credit’s due, Koch is just the second billionaire to answer our challenge. A half-dozen others have balked on the issue, dispensing opaque “no comments,” while other notables — such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin — so far remain mum. We’ll keep updating the page as we hear back from more of the subjects.

- – - – - – - – - -

  • 1. Bill Gates


    Founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (2011 net worth: $54 billion)

    No comment

  • 3. Larry Ellison


    Co-founder and CEO of Oracle Corp. (2011 net worth: $27 billion)

    No comment

  • 4. Christy Walton (and family)

    Inheritor of WalMart fortune through her late husband, John T. Walton, and the world’s richest woman. (2011 net worth: $24 billion) (Walton’s brothers and sister in law — Jim, Alice and S. Robson, chairman of WalMart — are Nos. 7 through 9 on the Forbes 400 list, and each worth $20 billion-plus.)

  • 5. (tie) Charles Koch and David Koch


    Co-owners of Koch Industries and bankrollers of many a conservative cause. (2011 net worth: $21.5B, each)

  • NO VOTE “Much of what the government spends money on does more harm than good; this is particularly true over the past several years with the massive uncontrolled increase in government spending. I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington.” — Charles Koch 

  • 10. Michael Bloomberg

    Mayor of New York; founder and primary owner of Bloomberg LP. (2011 net worth: $18B)

  • 11. (tie) Larry Page and Sergey Brin

    Co-founders of Google. Page is also the search giant’s CEO. (2011 net worth: $15B, each)

  • 13. Sheldon Adelson


    Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp. (2011 net worth: $14.7B)

  • No comment

  • 14. George Soros


    Chairman of the Soros Management hedge fund and financier of liberal causes. (2011 net worth: $14.2B)

    YES VOTE “Warren Buffett is living up to his reputation as an astute investor,” he said. “The rich hurt their own long term interests by their opposition to paying more taxes.”

  • 15. Michael Dell

    Founder and CEO of computer giant Dell, Inc. (2011 net worth: $14B)

  • 16. Steve Ballmer


    CEO of Microsoft. (2011 net worth: $13.1B)

    No comment

  • 17. Paul Allen

    Co-founder of Microsoft, chairman of Vulcan, Inc. (2011 net worth: $12.7B)

  • 18. Jeff Bezos

    Founder, president, chairman and CEO of Amazon. (2011 net worth: $12.6B)

  • 19. Anne Cox Chambers


    Heiress, primary owner and a director of Cox Enterprises. (2011 net worth: $12.5B)

    No comment

  • 20. John Paulson


    Founder and president of the Pauls & Co. hedge fund. (2011 net worth: $12.4B)

    No comment

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Peter Finocchiaro is the deputy editor of Salon. Follow him on Twitter @PLFino.

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