Taxes to Task
Magazine phoned the author of the much talked about "Perfectly Legal:
The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich -- And
Cheat Everybody Else" (Penguin USA, 2003), there was a brief hold
period. Alumnus David Cay Johnston excused himself to
field a call from his daughter's Girl Scout leader.
Such is the New York Times reporter's life. While raising eight
children, Johnston has managed to write two books, win both a Pulitzer
Prize and an Investigative Reporters and Editors award, and continue churning
out exclusives for the Times' business desk.
He launched his career during his undergrad days. In 1972, at the age
of 19, while taking a full course load at SFSU, the economics and journalism
major convinced the San Jose Mercury News to hire him as its San Mateo
County reporter. He later landed a job as an investigative reporter with
the Detroit Free Press. Plum gigs with the Philadelphia Inquirer and Los
Angeles Times followed.
In 1995, the New York Times recruited Johnston to cover taxes, a beat
which prompted many of his friends and family to offer condolences rather
than congratulations. But his new position fascinated him.
During the past nine years, Johnston has managed to make sense of the
arcane rules, regulations, and loopholes that make up the U.S. Tax
Code. In "Perfectly Legal," he paints a picture of a
system that's fundamentally rigged to benefit the ultra-rich. He
asserts that laws introduced and passed by Republicans and Democrats alike
have gutted the enforcement capability of the IRS and allowed a wealthy
minority to hire experts to hide their money in ingenious new ways.
Capitol Hill movers and shakers are taking notice of the controversial
book, but Johnston hopes his message also reverberates outside of the
Beltway with working Americans. Today, he's working on a third book
about taxes and keeping his sights set on a lofty goal.
"We can have any kind of tax system we want in America -- the
Constitution says that," he says. "I wrote this book thinking
that if enough people read it, there would be a movement to reform the