What Do A Millionaire Democratic Socialist and Other One-Percenters Running for Congress in Massachusetts Have In Common? Tax Returns Tell the Tale

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A socialist running for Congress in Massachusetts is a millionaire.

That’s according to the tax returns released by democratic socialist Ihssane Leckey’s campaign.

Leckey, one of seven Democrats running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Massachusetts’s Fourth Congressional District, has the highest income of the group, based on tax returns made public by six out of the seven candidates’ campaigns.

The Brookline resident and Wall Street regulator released eight years’ worth of tax returns, including  one from 2006 showing that she and her husband Sean made just $7,217 one year when she was in college. Over the past seven years, however, they have made more than $5 million total, averaging $721,682 annually in adjusted gross income.

In 2018, she and Sean, who works as an analyst for Boston Energy Trading and Marketing, made a combined $2,155,096 in adjusted gross income.

Other years were not as profitable for them, but they made substantial amounts of money, nonetheless. In 2013, they made $267,206. In 2014, they increased it to $360,492. A year later in 2015, their earnings went up to $676,624. Then in 2016, they dropped to $230,744. In 2017, they earned $418,751.

Last year, they made $942,860.

For each of the past two years that they have lived in Massachusetts, the Leckeys avoided paying the Bay State’s higher optional income tax rate, according to their 2018 and 2019 state income tax returns. (From 2013 to 2017, they filed state income tax returns in Pennsylvania.)

Since 2002, Massachusetts has allowed taxpayers to pay the prevailing income tax rate or a higher optional rate of 5.85 percent. The standard income tax rate has been decreasing by small amounts since around that time, and as of 2020 it’s now 5.0 percent.

In 2018, the Leckeys opted for the then-standard 5.1 percent state income tax rate, paying $108,913 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts — not $124,929, as they could have if they had gone for the higher 5.85 percent optional rate. And a year later, in 2019, when the couple earned a combined $927,460 in taxable income, they paid $46,837 in state income tax — not $54,256, as they could have if they desired. That’s a total of $23,435 less in state income taxes in two years than they could have paid if they had taken the higher optional rate.

The decision to not pay higher taxes at the state level came despite Leckey’s current support for Medicare-for-All, the Green New Deal, 36 weeks of paid family leave for new parents, student debt cancellation, and free public college, among other programs that call for major government spending increases (albeit at the federal level).

Leckey is not alone among Democratic candidates in the Fourth district passing on the higher optional tax rate.

Every other candidate in the race who has released Massachusetts state income taxes did the same.

That’s the case despite most of the candidates’ exceeding the threshold of the top 1 percent of household incomes in the United States:  $421,926 as of 2018, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

One who didn’t is social epidemiologist Natalia Linos, who had a household adjusted income of $310,323 in 2019. It’s not clear whether she and her husband paid the optional higher state income tax rate, because she has released only federal tax returns so far. The same can be said for civil litigator Ben Sigel, who as of Sunday, August 30 had not released any tax returns.

Jesse Mermell, a former Brookline selectman who used to work for Planned Parenthood, was the first candidate in the race to release tax returns. She did so back in June, and she challenged the other candidates in the race to do the same.

At the time, New Boston Post reported that Mermell opted against paying the state’s higher, voluntary 5.85 percent state income tax rate despite supporting the types of programs that call for major spending increases, like Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal. On five years of returns, she opted against giving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts an extra $4,746 total. As a single woman, her adjusted gross income over those five years was $133,911. In 2019, it was $153,055. It’s the lowest income among the candidates in the race.

Newton city councilor Jake Auchincloss’s campaign has released one year of state and federal tax returns:  2019. It shows that his family’s adjusted gross income was $522,119 and that he paid the standard 5.05 percent state income tax rate last year. That means he paid $23,415 in state income tax in 2019 rather than the $27,125 he could have paid if he had gone with the higher rate — a $3,710 difference.

City Year founder Alan Khazei and Newton city councilor Becky Grossman offered up more returns than Auchincloss. Khazei released five years’ worth and Grossman released six.

Both candidates also passed up the opportunity to pay the higher optional 5.85 percent rate.

In 2015, when Khazei made $624,708, he paid $29,359 instead of the $33,349 he could have paid. In 2016, he made $649,613 and paid $31,488 rather than $36,118. In 2017, he earned $599,902 and chipped in $30,595 as opposed to $35,094. Then in 2018, when he made $653,987, he contributed $30,414 — not $34,886. And last year, as his income dipped to $532,086, he paid $24,250 instead of $28,091. Paying the mandatory lower rate instead of the optional higher rate saved the Khazeis a total of $21,432 over the five years, during which period their average annual adjusted gross income was $612,059.

Grossman also saved thousands in the same way.

In 2014, Grossman and her husband had an adjusted gross income of $536,655 and paid $27,424 in state income taxes instead of the $30,851 they could have paid. In 2015, they made $718,274 and paid $36,035 rather than $40,933. In 2016 they paid $39,547 instead of the $45,363 they could have paid; they made $817,106. In 2017, they made $838,289 and paid $40,410 instead of $46,353. Then in 2018, with an income of $998,535, they paid $48,989 instead of $56,193. And last year, they paid $44,356 rather than $51,383 after making $881,485 as a family. That’s a total savings over the six years of $34,315.

As of Sunday, August 30, six of the seven candidates still in the race had released their tax returns. Brookline resident and former civil litigator Ben Sigel was the only one who had not. A spokesman for his campaign told New Boston Post by telephone on Friday that the campaign would release his tax returns when campaign officials confirmed that every other candidate in the race had released at least one year of returns.

Below is a chart with the adjusted gross incomes for six of the seven candidates from 2019:

For reference, the median household income in Massachusetts is $77,378, according to Census.gov.

The winner of this Democratic primary will likely succeed U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Newton) in the House. A Republican hasn’t won a U.S House seat in Massachusetts since 1994.