Veteran Ivy League professor and bestselling author Dr. Cornel West has long advocated for taxing the rich to provide more services to America’s lower classes. But the academic-turned-Green Party presidential candidate isn’t living up to those standards in his own life—as public records from New Jersey and California show, West owes the IRS hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes.
West’s lament of the concentration of wealth among the nation’s elite and his support for fiscal policies that would funnel funds down the social scale have been an enduring theme of his decades-long career as a public intellectual—from his initial appearances on the national scene in the 1990s, to his support of both of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ failed presidential bids, to his current sally along the 2024 campaign trail.
"Taxation without representation is now reflected in policies that allow the wealthy to be coddled and under-taxed while the perennially poor, working poor, and 'new poor' are ignored and rendered invisible,” West and co-author (and alleged sex pest) Tavis Smiley wrote in their 2012 book, The Rich and the Rest of Us. “Economic justice in America has been overshadowed by greed, because unequal taxation benefits the rich at the expense of everyone else.”
In a recent interview with Semafor, West maintained that “we’ve got to have taxes that are higher, much higher”—while he told New York Post that first son Hunter Biden’s now-lapsed plea deal to misdemeanor tax charges amounted to “a little tap on the wrist,” especially compared to the penalties the spawn of less powerful families face.
But materials filed in Mercer County, New Jersey, where West owns a home in the upper-crust college town of Princeton, and in Los Angeles—the location of his personal attorney’s office—reveal a second, secret motif to his hugely lucrative professional life: a failure to pay his own taxes.
These documents show a total of $543,778.78 in outstanding federal tax liens against the professor, activist, and writer.
After repeated emails, calls and text messages from The Daily Beast to the West campaign, to interim campaign manager Jill Stein, and to West himself, the professor sent a one-line response from his personal Gmail account.
“My brother I have asked my accountant to respond to these charges some of which are not true,” West wrote from his iPhone.
However, correspondence from the accountant was not forthcoming, and West did not respond to The Daily Beast’s subsequent requests that he provide documentation that contradicts the public records from New Jersey and California.
These records show that, for all his tirades against the wealthy, in almost every one of the years recorded West owed more in unpaid taxes than the median American household earned. This includes $85,477.02 he shorted the Internal Revenue Service in 2017, $136,916.26 in 2016, $82,396.14 in 2015, $98,818.25 in 2014, $62,367.69, and $77,803.42 way back in 2005. The IRS has not filed a release for any of these liens, meaning they remain open, or have only been repaid inside the last 30 days.
It is possible West has entered a payment plan with the IRS and paid some of the outstanding balance on these liens. But neither the candidate nor his campaign made any claim to this effect to The Daily Beast.
The county-level filings also expose West as a perennial tax delinquent for almost his entire tenure in the public eye. On top of the sums listed above, he piled up $724,397.26 in liens in a six-year period ending in 2004—a balance he finally paid down in 2010. He also welshed on a $34,069.93 tax debt in 2008, which he finally made good on four years later.
Additionally, documents the IRS submitted in California reveal that West racked up $46,904.57 and $112,449.79 in tax debt in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The materials from the Los Angeles County Clerk’s office also show West finally resolved these liens on June 14 of this year, a little more than a week after he joined the presidential fray.
New Jersey court records further indicate the Harvard- and Princeton-educated son of a Defense Department contractor is a deadbeat in more ways than one. A $49,500 child support judgment against him from 2003 remains open to this day.