Millionaires for More Taxes

Photo: iStockphoto

Amid the predictable rhetoric surrounding the scheduled December 31 expiration of George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, a group calling itself Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength has a novel message—its members are calling on Congress to restore higher rates on their cohort, the top 1 percent of earners. The backstory on what, and who, brought the group together.

On November 13, the Bush tax cuts come up at a dinner party in the San Francisco home of Democratic lawyer Guy Saperstein; guests vent that President Obama appears ready to extend the cuts. The next morning, a psyched-up Saperstein calls New York political strategist Erica Payne. The two draft a pro-tax-hike petition and decide on a catchy conceit—contacting only potential signees who have earned at least a million dollars in a year.

Saperstein and Payne reach out to their social networks. Many of Payne’s connections come from the “Agenda Project” breakfast series she runs at the Regency Hotel, which brings in the likes of Chuck Schumer and Paul Krugman to speak to Democratic VIPs. Saperstein and Payne’s friend David desJardins, an early Google employee, gets several colleagues onboard.

Forty-two self-avowed patriotic millionaires sign on by the time the letter is made public on November 18. In addition to the likely lefty outlets (Salon, The Nation), the group gets covered by ABC, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, and Fox Business Channel. Attention boosts their numbers: They’ve gotten 49 more signees in the two weeks since it was posted.

Garrett Gruener: Founded
George Zimmer: Founded Men’s Wearhouse
Moby: Artist, raconteur
Doug Carlston: Published the game Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
“It’s not like some huge sacrifice that’s going to change my lifestyle, so I don’t even feel like it’s anything to be particularly proud of.”
— Morris Pearl: Managing director, BlackRock

Though most of the nearly 200 millionaires solicited are past supporters of liberal causes, not all have loved the idea. Excerpts from the rejection correspondence:

“I give away more money to needy people and do more for the poor in a year than you will in a lifetime.”

“There is a place in hell where you will be intertwined with Nancy Pelosi for all eternity.”

Larry Nusbaum, a private real-estate and stock investor
Year: 2000
Income: $406,000
Taxes paid: $40, 376

Year: 2009
Income: $398,000
Taxes paid: $18,818
(Money earned through investments is often taxed at a lower rate than wages.)

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Millionaires for More Taxes