(WASHINGTON) — Philosopher and presidential Green Party candidate Cornel West currently owes more than half a million dollars between unpaid taxes and unpaid child support, according to tax records.
Records show West owes nearly $466,000 in federal income taxes from 2013 until 2017. This came after he accrued (and later repaid) a debt of nearly $725,000 from 1998-2005, and more than $34,000 in 2008, according to tax records in Mercer County, New Jersey – where he owns a home.
Additionally, West has an outstanding $49,500 child support judgement from 2003, records show.
The debts were first reported by the Daily Beast.
The tax debts have not been paid off as of 30 days ago – the last available data, according to Mercer County records. ABC News reached out to West and his campaign to see if West had plans to pay off the debt or set up a payment plan; they have not returned those requests for comment.
The outstanding child support payment is owed to Aytul Gurtas, his former partner and mother of one of his children. ABC News was unable to reach Gurtas for comment.
While it’s not clear how long West didn’t pay child support, New Jersey family lawyer Kathleen Stockton said that the amount of money appears substantial. The average U.S. child support obligation is about $5,800 per year, according to census data, making West’s nearly $50,000 more than eight times that.
Stockton noted that it is possible West paid Gurtas and didn’t register it with the court – though West has given no indication of that.
When the question of his debts was brought up on The Breakfast Club radio morning show last week, West told the radio show host “Charlamagne the God” that they were being used as a “distraction” from his presidential campaign, which has focused on ending poverty, mass incarceration and environmental degradation.
“Any time you shine a flashlight under somebody’s clothes, you’re gonna find all kind of mess, because that’s what it is to be human,” West said.
Earlier on the show, West mentioned he was “broke as the Ten Commandments financially, personally, collectively.”
West’s debts are personal, not related to the campaign, so they may not directly bear on the finances of his candidacy. Still, personal finance issues have been known to interfere with campaigns: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s sometimes imprudent management of his own finances were scrutinized during his 2016 campaign for president, and then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s personal debt seemed to undermine his message of fiscal hawkishness.
According to West’s financial disclosure filed with the Federal Election Commission in August 2023, he currently makes at least $200,000 annually. That includes his professorship at the Union Theological Seminary, where his annual income falls upward of $100,000; his speaking engagements, where he makes at least another $100,000; and his retirement fund, which earns him somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000 annually. His spouse, a professor, makes at least $50,000 per year.
Kedric Payne, an ethics lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, said in an email to ABC News that the U.S. Office of Government Ethics advises candidates to disclose debts the size of West’s.
“The federal disclosure law requires candidates for president to report liabilities owed over $10,000. Child support is excluded, but OGE advises that overdue taxes are reportable. If West in fact owes taxes, voters have a right to know why this isn’t disclosed,” Payne wrote.
West’s associate, author Christopher Phillips described West as “authentic” and someone who hasn’t hesitated to spend his own money to help others.
Phillips, who said he has known West for eight years, said that when he first met West over the phone, the scholar volunteered to lecture and spend time with his students at the University of Pennsylvania, where Phillips was a writing fellow.
“He said he could come down on his own nickel, and he spent the entire day breaking philosophical bread with my students … just because he likes what I do,” Phillips said.
The campaign did not respond to ABC News’ multiple requests for comment.
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