In 1995 David Cay Johnston persuaded the editors of The New York Times to hire him to see if he could devise a new way to cover taxes, focusing on how the system operates rather than what politicians say about it. His work has resulted in shutting so many tax dodges, in pressing so many new laws and regulations and enforcement efforts that some tax policy officials now consider him, as one tax law professor put it, “the de facto chief tax enforcement officer of the United States.”
He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for his running investigation of our tax system and was a finalist for that award in 2000 and in 2003 for beat reporting and for national reporting
In 1968 Mr. Johnston began his career when he talked his way, at age 19, into a job as a staff writer for the San Jose Mercury. When he left nearly five years later he was still its youngest reporter.
He was an investigative reporter for the Detroit Free Press in its Lansing bureau 1973-76; a reporter for the Los Angeles Times in San Francisco and then Los Angeles from 1976 to 1988; a reporter and, briefly, editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1988 until he joined The New York Times in February 1995.
He studied economics at the University of Chicago graduate school and at six other colleges, earning six years of college credits but no degree because he took upper level and graduate level courses almost exclusively.
Over the years Mr. Johnston’s many investigations included hunting down a murderer the police had failed to catch, winning freedom for Tony Cooks, to whom a trial judge said “I believe you are innocent, but I sentence you to life in prison.”
He was the first reporter to seriously investigate the Los Angeles Police Department, exposing mismanagement, inefficiency, brutality and a worldwide political spying operation. The LAPD now operates under the aegis of the federal government.
He helped save a third of a billion dollars from being snatched from poor children by Barron Hilton. He exposed misuse of charitable funds at the United Ways in Los Angeles in 1986 and Washington, D.C., in 2002 and exposed news manipulations at the most profitable television station in America, WJIM-TV that ultimately forced the sale of that station and five others. He also broke the story that Donald Trump was no billionaire, but, according to his own documents, actually had a negative net worth in 1990.
His previous book, Temples of Chance, exposed the fraudulent way that New Jersey regulates casinos. It is under development in Hollywood as a motion picture about the characters he described in Temples of Chance.
Mr. Johnston lives in Rochester, New York, with his wife, Jennifer Leonard, and their two daughters. He has six grown children and four grandsons.