ProPublica drops a second monumental article based on treasure trove of IRS, SEC & court data
Excellent reporting of tax injustices among the obscenely rich continues with a huge and revelatory piece on Peter Thiel and his “little” Roth IRA scheme. Going well beyond the previous article that detailed how Bezos, Musk, Buffet and others all use loans secured with share holdings to avoid income, and thus avoid paying tax the “Lord of the Roths” is even more explosive.
While the emphasis of the article on Thiel’s Roth IRA takes on the task of trying to somehow compare an “average” investor’s potential gains with the unimaginable magnitude of Thiel’s windfall, this is something that makes sense as a valid perspective, but the obscenity is nearly lost in the opaque fog of numbers beyond comprehension.
For example: your Peter is basically gifted 1.7 million shares by the company he was one of the founders of (along with Elon Musk and the rest of the so called “PayPal Mafia). That “purchase” costing less than $2000 based on the ridiculous price of $0.001 per share was used to found a Roth IRA.
The engineered numbers were no accident: at the time, in 1999, a Roth IRA account had a maximum allowable contribution amount of $2,000. Since the shares were “below fair value”, the fact of which was admitted by PayPal in an SEC filing from the time just before the company went public, the value increased massively, by 227,490% in the first year. Which increased the value of the paltry $2k up to $3.8 million.
Though obviously not enforced, regulations at the time forbade this kind of “stuffing”. Meaning, the initial trade that launched this scheme was possibly illegitimate, if not unlawful. Or, as ProPublica more kindly phrased it: “Investors aren’t allowed to buy assets for less than their true value through an IRA. “
As a matter of fact, according to the article, the “stuffing” was so successful that no further contributions were ever made into the account after that initial 1999 sum.
Since a Roth IRA allows a person to trade stocks within the account tax free, as long as no withdrawals are made, this large but still comprehensible sum was the start of a 20 year use of the tax statutes to build a fortune of over $5 billion without paying a single penny in tax.
Hitting $870 million in value by 2008, by 2019 the tax free enterprise, built on the less than $2000 initial contribution (stock “purchase”), ultimately ballooned to 96 sub-accounts with holdings of $5 billion.
Ok, so that’s the short summary of the mind blowing numbers. For a more detailed account, by all means visit the original article.
The numbers are outrageous, but the entitlement and arrogance is on a whole other level
The part of the story that should spark outrage is not in the numbers but begins where the almost inhuman greed, hubris and hypocrisy at this good fortune grows apace with the size of the tax free bonanza. Because Peter Tiel is not just any run-of-the-mill untaxed billionaire.
The endlessly expanding windfall he received, tax free, did not engender a mindset of charity or gratefulness at his miraculous providence.
Instead Thiel, once the wealth lent him a position of power, preached and pushed the idea that the US government, the same one that he was able to avoid paying taxes to, was guilty of over-taxing people like him (and poor people too).
He spent millions of dollars in an effort to influence Republican politicians and groups that have anti-tax agendas, to change the laws in ways that would add even more advantages to his already preposterously privileged position. Then this: as per ProPublica: “In 2016, he became the rare Silicon Valley titan to endorse Donald Trump.”
And, in an arrogance that is as incomprehensible as the size his effortlessly expanding fortune, he espouses the belief that people like him are entitled to these kind of spoils because, after all, without him we might have to live without PayPal and….wait for it…. Facebook.
Yes, you heard that right. In 2004, Thiel used his IRA to buy $500,000 worth of shares in a, then private, company called Facebook, which was the first big outside investment in Zuckerberg’s soon to be massive monstrosity.
By using his IRA funds to buy shares of the start-up he was able to avoid tax on all the future gains of those shares. (ProPublica, in excellent investigative reporting, uncovered this tidbit by combing though Facebook court documents).
So, again, ostensibly, based on his well known statements, we are not only to congratulate him on his clever method of avoiding any taxation whatsoever on the first gambit with the PayPal shares, but we ought to effusively thank him for helping Facebook to become the dangerous purveyor of surveillance and phantom tollbooth Ponzi empire that is it today?
In perhaps one of the greatest illustrations of how power corrupts, this idea that because he was able to amass a fortune on such a massive scale without the burden of any tax whatsoever, he is somehow a hero to be emulated, is the real reason for us to be outraged.
That an average person might be lucky to turn $2000 into $250,000 over two decades, as was illustrated in detail in the article, while Thiel easily turned it into $5 billion, is outrageous, yes.
But the real “crime” is that it was done with zero benefit to anyone except him and other Silicon Valley insiders at companies like PayPal and Facebook.
Could it be argued that Facebook is a gift to humanity? Well, in 2021 that would be a tough argument to put forth without being laughed out to the room. And PayPal? It’s doubtful that Satoshi Nakamoto has to fear competition from any of the PayPal Mafia (including Mr. Musk) when the crown for greatest financial innovator of the century is awarded.
In a revelation that could have received more page inches, the article also exposes a second, possibly more plausible reason, why Thiel went to great lengths to bankrupt Gawker Media, which he blamed for outing him as Gay. That politically convenient motivation could very well have covered up the real reason:
Again, as per ProPublica:
“In a story headlined, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Taxpayer Money,” Gawker Media, citing anonymous sources, revealed that Thiel held his Facebook investment in a tax-free Roth.”
Companies built on greed and hubris create nothing and, in the end, die
Thiel believes he will live to be 120 years old. Based on his comments and writings he appears to believe that the world would benefit from that eventuality. But when looking at the companies he helped to build, and the obscene fortune he was rewarded with for binging them into being, it seems like most of us, after looking at his life’s works and “accomplishments” would be more thankful for the improbability of that dream coming true.
2087? That will be the year that either Utopia or Oblivion will have arrived for humanity and the planet earth. If by a miracle an earthly Utopia comes to be, it is highly unlikely that PayPal, Facebook or Mr. Thiel will have had any hand in bringing it about.
Related Stories from around the web:
- THE THIEL-GAWKER SAGA TAKES AN EVEN DARKER TURN
- Lord of the Roths: How Tech Mogul Peter Thiel Turned a Retirement Account for the Middle Class Into a $5 Billion Tax-Free Piggy Bank
- The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax
- Peter Thiel Met With The Racist Fringe As He Went All In On Trump
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