Leon Cooperman declines Elizabeth Warren invite to testify at Senate hearing on taxes
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and billionaire Leon Cooperman have clashed many times.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants one of her biggest critics to face lawmakers in a hearing next week, but that encounter will have to wait.
Warren, a progressive Democrat from Massachusetts, invited billionaire investor Leon Cooperman to testify before a Senate Finance subcommittee hearing on taxes.
Cooperman, in a response given to CNBC, declined the invitation, calling it “self-serving and disingenuous.”
“As I have stated many times before (including in my Open Letter to Senator Warren), I believe in a progressive income tax.,” Cooperman wrote. “Personally, I am happy to work six months of the year ‘for the government’ and six months for myself. But many who live in high-tax cities and states already pay even more than the 50 percent combined effective rate that that implies, and at some point, higher effective rates (federal, state, and local combined) become confiscatory, which should never be the ethos of this country.”
Warren, in a letter to Cooperman first obtained by CNBC, called on the financier to attend a hearing being organized and led by the Finance Committee’s Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth subcommittee, which she chairs. The hearing, set for April 27, is titled Creating Opportunity Through a Fairer Tax System.
Warren told Cooperman in the letter she is interested in giving the longtime Wall Street executive “an opportunity to discuss my Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act, which would level the economic playing field and narrow the racial wealth gap by asking the wealthiest 100,000 households in America, or the top 0.05%, to pay their fair share.” The letter was sent to Cooperman on Monday.
A rivalry between Warren and Cooperman exploded during the Democrat’s campaign for president. After she proposed a wealth tax during the primary, Cooperman blasted her proposal in a letter to the lawmaker.
“However much it resonates with your base, your vilification of the rich is misguided, ignoring, among other things, the sources of their wealth and the substantial contributions to society which they already, unprompted by you, make,” he said at the time.
A month later, Warren’s campaign ran a TV ad on CNBC taking aim at Cooperman and other business leaders. Her campaign also sold a mug that read “BILLIONAIRE TEARS” in response to a CNBC interview during which Cooperman cried.
Cooperman has since done numerous interviews ripping Warren’s tax proposals, including a CNBC appearance in March in which he advised viewers to buy gold if such a bill passes.
“If the wealth tax passes, go out and buy yourself some gold because people are going to rush to find ways of hiding their wealth,” Cooperman told CNBC at the time.
Cooperman expressed skepticism Tuesday about Warren’s invitation.
“I’m trying to determine whether she’s being objective or whether she’s just trying to promote her own agenda,” Cooperman told CNBC in a statement. “I’m a bit suspicious given how she never responded to the letter I sent her before.”
Cooperman, who will turn 78 two days before the hearing, is one of the most outspoken members of the investor community. He often speaks of his rags-to-riches story: growing up in the South Bronx as the child of working-class Polish immigrants, attending public schools, and starting his first Wall Street job – with Goldman Sachs – in debt and with zero net worth.
After more than two decades with Goldman, Cooperman founded the hedge fund Omega Advisors in 1991. He is now the CEO of the Omega Family Office. Last year, he signed the Giving Pledge, which is a commitment by rich people to donate a majority of their wealth to charity.
“That’s the American Dream,” he said. “I want to give others the opportunity to live the American Dream.”
Warren addresses Cooperman’s issues with her wealth tax idea in the letter sent Monday, encouraging him to discuss his concerns in front of her committee and those watching from home.
“But as we move expeditiously toward consideration of changes to our rigged tax code so that the wealthy pay their fair share, I believe you should be afforded the chance to present your perspective directly to Congress,” she writes to Cooperman. “The opportunity will allow you to fully air your views, not merely in front of the financial news audience where you often express them, but before the entirety of the American people.”
Warren and other Democratic lawmakers have pitched a 3% total annual tax on wealth exceeding $1 billion.
They have also called for a lesser, 2% annual wealth tax on the net worth of households and trusts ranging from $50 million to $1 billion.
Cooperman’s net worth is at $2.5 billion, according to Forbes.