When billionaire Billy Joe “Red” McCombs, co-founder of Clear Channel Communications Inc., reported a $9.8 million loss on his tax return, he failed to include about $259 million from a lucrative stock transaction.
After an audit, the Internal Revenue Service ordered him to pay $44.7 million in back taxes. McCombs, who is worth an estimated $1.4 billion and is a former owner of the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Nuggets, and San Antonio Spurs sports franchises, sued the IRS, settling the case in March for about half the disputed amount.
McCombs’s fight with the IRS illustrates an overlooked facet in the debate over tax rates paid by the nation’s wealthiest. Billionaires — from McCombs to Philip Anschutz to Ronald S. Lauder — who derive the bulk of their wealth from stock appreciation are using strategies that reap hundreds of millions of dollars from those valuable shares in ways the IRS often doesn’t classify as taxable income, securities filings and tax court records show.
“The 800-pound gorilla is unrealized appreciation,” said Edward J. McCaffery, a professor of law, economics and political science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
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