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Raise our taxes, please! Some wealthy Americans are asking to pay more

BWEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. - OCT. 15, 2015. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney Company co-foun
Abigail Disney, shown in 2015, the granddaughter of Walt Disney Co. co-founder Roy O. Disney, is one of 18 wealthy Americans who signed a letter calling for higher taxes on the nation’s most affluent.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

America’s mega-rich have a message for the field of 2020 presidential hopefuls: Take our money, please.

A group of 18 wealthy Americans — led by billionaire financier George Soros and including a Disney family member and the daughter of Warren Buffett’s longtime partner — sent an open letter to that effect Monday.

“We are writing to call on all candidates for President, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, to support a moderate wealth tax on the fortunes of the richest 1/10 of the richest 1% of Americans — on us,” said the letter posted on the website Medium.com.

The document was released just days before the large field of Democratic presidential candidates will meet in Miami for the first debate. It points to and could help draw attention to the proposal by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for a tax targeting the 75,000 wealthiest families in the country, those with assets worth more than $50 million.

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“This revenue could substantially fund the cost of smart investments in our future, like clean energy innovation to mitigate climate change, universal child care, student loan debt relief, infrastructure modernization, tax credits for low-income families, public health solutions, and other vital needs,” it states.

It also notes that such a tax could help mitigate the country’s “growing concentration of wealth that undermines the stability and integrity of our republic.”

Among the signatories, only Soros is a bona-fide member of the billionaires club as calculated by Forbes — his net worth is estimated at $8 billion. But several are members of such families, including Liesel Pritzker Simmons and other members of the Pritzker family, which draws its wealth from the Hyatt hotel chain and other enterprises.

Also signing was Facebook Inc. co-founder Chris Hughes; Molly Munger, an L.A. civil rights attorney who is the daughter of Charles Munger, the billionaire vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Walt Disney Co. co-founder Roy O. Disney.

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Abigail Disney, a documentary filmmaker, has been outspoken about issues of wealth inequality, including earlier this year when she penned an op-ed and criticized Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger in a series of tweets over his $65.6 million 2018 pay package, which she labeled “insane.”

Indeed, Monday’s letter was far from the first time that the ultra wealthy have called for higher taxes on themselves.

Buffett has long said that wealthy Americans pay too little in taxes, but the issue has gained more prevalence as inequality has grown amid the economic recovery. It also has been boosted by the passage of the Republican tax bill in 2017, which funneled the lion’s share of cuts to the wealthy and corporations.

In January, JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon said he had “no problem” paying higher taxes to solve some of the “fundamental challenges and inequities in our society,” as long as the money was spent wisely.

And Ray Dalio, who manages what is reported to be the world’s largest hedge fund, warned in April in a highly publicized LinkedIn post that unless capitalism is reformed there could be social unrest. The billionaire brought that message to last month’s Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, where at least one other speaker warned of “class warfare.”

Among the Democratic presidential candidates, Warren is not the only one proposing to raise taxes on the wealthy. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont released his own plan shortly afterward. The letter noted that there is support among all Americans — including the wealthy — for such measures.

A poll taken on tax day found that most Americans don’t feel that the GOP tax law benefited them, while other polls, including one released in January by Fox News, have shown a preference to tax the rich and funnel the revenue into domestic spending.

Veteran Democratic political strategist Mark Mellman said that although he doubts the letter will “fundamentally change the political dialogue,” it is one more piece of evidence the candidates can use to argue that the current tax structure is unfair.

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“The ultra wealthy know they are not paying their fair share. It should be difficult for Republicans or anyone else to say they are paying their fair share,” said Mellman, who expects more of the wealthy to join the debate as the presidential campaign heats up.

Simmons told the New York Times, which first reported on the letter Sunday, that the initiative got started after she and her husband, Ian Simmons, who are co-founders of the Blue Haven Initiative impact investment organization, decided it would be a “good idea” to publish the document.

They then reached out to the others who joined, including Soros, who is a longtime supporter of liberal causes, and his son Alexander. In addition to the 18 name co-signers, there was one “Anonymous.”

The Los Angeles Times reached out to Soros, Munger and Abigail Disney for comment but they did not immediately respond.


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