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Monday, April 18, 2022

Tax Returns Were Briefly Public Documents

 Ronald G. Shafer at WP:
As Americans send off their tax returns by Monday’s deadline, they don’t have to worry about their neighbors knowing how much they earned or paid. But for a while in the 1920s, everybody’s tax payments were public records for all to see. And the richest Americans were not happy about it.

One goal of the 1924 tax publicity law was to show whether wealthy Americans and large corporations were paying their fair share of taxes. Newspapers published big stories on the first release of tax payments. Oil heir John D. Rockefeller Jr. was America’s biggest taxpayer, with a tax bill of $7,435,160.41, equal to about $123 million now. Next was automaker Henry Ford, who paid $2,467,400.10, or $41 million today. Douglas Fairbanks and Gloria Swanson were the highest-paying movie stars. Incomes weren’t disclosed, though they could be roughly inferred.

The Big Reveal was short-lived. In 1926, Republican President Calvin Coolidge, under pressure from rich taxpayers, got Congress to end the public tax payments.