Musk Foundation Donations Often Linked to Musk and Businesses: NYT

Estimated read time 3 min read
  • Elon Musk’s charity often supports his own interests, according to a New York Times analysis.
  • Half of donations made in 2021 and 2022 had links to Musk, his employees, or his businesses, it found.
  • The Musk Foundation also regularly falls short of minimum required donations set by tax laws, it said.

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Elon Musk’s charity makes infrequent donations and the ones it does make often support his own interests, according to an in-depth analysis by The New York Times.

About half of the donations made by Musk’s charitable Musk Foundation in 2021 and 2022 had some link to him, one of his employees, or one of his businesses, the analysis found.

For instance, in March 2021 the Musk Foundation gave millions to Cameron County — a pledge made by Musk within hours of a SpaceX rocket blowing up and scattering metal across the area.

Other donations included $55 million to help a major SpaceX customer meet a charitable pledge and donations to two schools closely tied to Musk’s businesses, the paper noted.

Musk, who owns Tesla and SpaceX, is the second-richest person in the world according to Forbes.

Since 2020, he has seeded his charity with tax-deductible donations of stock worth billions— a way to reduce his own tax bill.

Tax laws allow executives holding significant amounts of their company’s stock to reduce their tax liability through charitable donations.

At the end of 2021, Musk revealed he would have to pay over $11 billion in taxes after he exercised options from a stock bonus plan from Tesla that gave him about $25 billion worth of shares in the company.

Under tax law, all foundations must give away 5% of their assets every year. However, the Musk Foundation has failed in recent years to give away the minimum required, the Times reported.

In 2021, the Musk Foundation fell $41 million short of the minimum required donation, and in 2022 it missed the 5% required donation by $193 million, tax filings show, per the paper.

The Musk Foundation has not reported what it gave away in 2023.

According to the Times, if it did not address the shortfall from the previous year, it could incur a penalty tax amounting to 30% of the remaining shortfall from 2022.

The paper contrasted Musk’s philanthropic activities with fellow billionaire Bill Gates, whose charitable foundation is the second largest in the world and has had major global impact.

“The really striking thing about Musk is the disjuncture between his outsized public persona, and his very, very minimal philanthropic presence,” Benjamin Soskis, who studies philanthropy at the Urban Institute, told The Times.

Soskis noted that Musk’s foundation lacks “any direction or any real focus, outside his business ventures.”