Billionaire Art Collector Ken Griffin Sues IRS Over Release of Tax Records

Billionaire art collector Ken Griffin filed a lawsuit against the IRS on Tuesday, alleging that the federal agency violated his right to privacy after the investigative journalism organization ProPublica published his income and tax records earlier this year.

Two reports by ProPublica featured detailed information on 400 of the wealthiest Americans between 2013 and 2018. This included the average annual income, percent of income deducted, and average effective federal income tax rate for that period. ProPublica said the financial records were unsolicited and anonymously shared with them.

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A spokesperson for Griffin told ProPublica the tax rates in the IRS data presented in its investigative report “significantly understate” what the billionaire pays, because the rate was lowered by charitable contributions and does not reflect local and state taxes. The spokesperson also said Griffin pays foreign taxes, which aren’t included in the IRS’s calculations of effective tax rate. 

According to court records filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Griffin’s lawsuit alleges the IRS is responsible for the “unlawful disclosure” of his tax and income information due to “willful and intentional failure to establish appropriate administrative, technical, and/or physical safeguards over its records system to insure the security and confidentiality”.

“The IRS is and has for some time been well aware of these issues,” Griffin’s court filing said. “Despite these warnings, however, the IRS continues to willfully and intentionally fail to establish adequate safeguards to protect Mr. Griffin and other taxpayers’ confidential tax return information.”

Griffin’s lawsuit request said the IRS should pay for his legal fees, $1,000 for each unauthorized disclosure, and an unspecified amount for punitive damages.

Griffin is the founder of Citadel, a hedge fund company, and is well known in the art world for dropping large sums on major artworks, like the $100 million he paid for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 painting Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump in 2020. Other highlights from his collection include a Willem de Kooning painting (which he bought privately for $300 million from David Geffen), as well as works by Jackson Pollock, Paul Cézanne, Jasper Johns, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby. In 2004, he reportedly paid a record price of $60 million for Paul Cézanne’s painting Curtain, Jug and Fruit Bowl (ca. 1893).

Other notable purchases by the longtime Chicago resident include Jasper Johns’s famous 1959 painting False Start from Geffen for a reported $80 million in 2006.

Griffin, who regularly appears on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list, is also a major donor and arts patron to museums like the Art Institute of Chicago, where he is a longtime trustee, and has supported the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, and the Shed, a performing arts center and art space in New York.

Griffin has also shown a willingness to spend big on fighting state legislation that would increase his taxes. Griffin spent $54 million against a proposed graduated state income tax plan and amendment that would have significantly hiked fees for the state’s richest residents. Illinois voters rejected it in 2020. As a result of the amendment failing to pass, Griffin saved $51 million per year based on his past income, ProPublica reported in July.


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