Recently uncovered financial documents reveal that last year, as Elon Musk was taunting the United Nations over his choice to withhold $6 billion that he said he would donate to solve world hunger, the right-wing billionaire gave the money to a different source: his own foundation.
Late last year, Musk donated roughly $5.7 billion worth of Tesla shares, as many wealthy people do through donor-advised funds to avoid paying capital gains and income taxes. The recipient of that donation was unknown until this week, when Bloomberg revealed that a tax filing shows that the donation went to the Musk Foundation, “instantly making it one of the largest foundations in the U.S.,” as Bloomberg reported.
The donation came as Musk was stirring up controversy online, arguing with Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) over the fact that billionaires are severely under-taxed in comparison to the general public.
Just a couple of weeks before that, Musk had pledged the money to another cause. In late October, director of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) David Beasley pointed out that billionaires like Musk could donate just a fraction of their wealth, which has skyrocketed during the pandemic, to address world hunger.
In response, Musk tweeted in a reply to a misleading tweet about Beasley’s remark that he would donate $6 billion — just 2 percent of his net worth at the time — if the UN could prove that the money would solve world hunger, ignoring that Beasley never mentioned solving world hunger altogether with that amount of money.
“If WFP can describe on this Twitter thread exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it,” Musk said.
The WFP took Musk up on his challenge and issued a report just three days later detailing how it could use the funds to feed 42 million of the people across the world who were most at risk of starvation for a year. Of course, the money from Musk, who is notorious for pledging to do good with his money and influence and then backing out, never materialized — not for the WFP, anyway.
Instead, the money went to the Musk Foundation, which appears to be set up in a way that is similar to other foundations started by billionaires; essentially, the sole purpose of these foundations is allowing the rich to dodge taxes while painting themselves as charitable.
Such foundations often sit on large amounts of money while charities wait for donations to arrive; indeed, even though the Musk Foundation had about $9.4 billion in assets by the end of last year, it gave only $160 million to charities in 2021. Similarly, the largest foundation in the U.S., the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — which is by no means innocent of tax-dodging schemes itself — had assets worth $55 billion at the end of 2021 while distributing $6.2 billion in grants, according to a foundation spokesperson.
Around the same time last year, Musk sold billions of dollars worth of Tesla stock. While he posted a poll on Twitter asking whether or not he should sell the stock, pretending that he was merely listening to the public, journalists and experts have noted that he likely sold the stock to help meet billions of dollars of tax obligations that had the potential to increase if he put them off, or for other stock-related reasons that he likely ultimately profited from.
The stakes have never been higher (and our need for your support has never been greater).
For over two decades, Truthout’s journalists have worked tirelessly to give our readers the news they need to understand and take action in an increasingly complex world. At a time when we should be reaching even more people, big tech has suppressed independent news in their algorithms and drastically reduced our traffic. Less traffic this year has meant a sharp decline in donations.
The fact that you’re reading this message gives us hope for Truthout’s future and the future of democracy. As we cover the news of today and look to the near and distant future we need your help to keep our journalists writing.
Please do what you can today to help us keep working for the coming months and beyond.