Twitter decides Elon Musk should sell 10% of his Tesla stock

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks at his mobile phone. Joe Skipper/Reuters
  • Elon Musk asked Twitter if he should sell 10% of his Tesla shares, and the response was a resounding “yes.”
  • “Much is made lately of unrealized gains being a means of tax avoidance, so I propose selling 10% of my Tesla stock,” Musk said of the poll.
  • “Whether or not the world’s wealthiest man pays any taxes at all shouldn’t depend on the results of a Twitter poll,” Sen. Ron Wyden tweeted.

Elon Musk asked Twitter if he should sell 10% of his Tesla shares, and the response was a resounding “yes.”

Musk, Tesla’s CEO and the world’s richest person, started the poll on Saturday, saying “Much is made lately of unrealized gains being a means of tax avoidance, so I propose selling 10% of my Tesla stock.”

He pledged to abide by the results, “whichever way it goes,” but he didn’t directly specify how the 10% would be used to pay taxes. More than 3.5 million people voted, with 57.9% in favor of him parting with the stock and 42.1% voted no.

Musk, who hasn’t accepted his Tesla salary in years, held about 170.5 million Tesla shares as of late June, valued at about $US208.3 ($AU282) billion as of Friday’s market close. A 10% sale would amount to around $US21 ($AU28) billion. Musk’s net worth ballooned this year to $US335 ($AU453) billion as Tesla stock soared, with the electric carmaker’s market capitalization exceeding $US1 ($AU1) trillion last month. Musk is by far the wealthiest person on Bloomberg’s index tracking the world’s richest people.

In June, ProPublica published an analysis based on IRS tax return data showing that centibillionaires, including Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, have paid nothing in income taxes in some recent years.

Musk’s poll comes as the billionaire criticizes a Democratic proposal in Washington to institute a so-called billionaires’ tax on unrealized gains. Under current US tax law, assets such as stocks are taxed only when they’re sold – what’s called a capital gain. But for many of the country’s richest, their main form of income is the value that those assets accrue, or unrealized gains.

Musk said the proposed legislation would be mismanaged by lawmakers and was the start of a new campaign from the left to redistribute wealth from the richest Americans.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the author of the billionaires’ income tax proposal, hit back at Musk’s poll on Saturday.

“Whether or not the world’s wealthiest man pays any taxes at all shouldn’t depend on the results of a Twitter poll,” Wyden said. “It’s time for the Billionaires Income Tax.”

A White House analysis found that when unrealized gains are counted as income, billionaires pay an average of just 8.2% in income taxes, far less than the average American.

Under his 2018 compensation agreement at Tesla, Musk’s total package is stock based. His options vest based on his ability to push the company to hit certain operating metrics. In September, Musk said would likely have to pay taxes on about half the gains he would make from exercising options.