News & Politics

Politico Founder’s Mother Is Suing the IRS Over Art Collection

The Allbrittons claim the feds overtaxed them by $40 million.

Cézanne's "The Rooftops of L'Estaque." Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Barbara Allbritton, the mother of Politico owner Robert Allbritton, is suing the federal government for more than $40 million over what she says are excessive taxes assessed on her family’s extensive art collection by the Internal Revenue Service. The suit, filed this week in US District Court in Houston, where Barbara Allbritton lives, claims the IRS mistakenly said the family’s holding company transferred $139 million worth of Impressionist works to Allbritton’s now-deceased husband, Washington-area banking and media baron Joe Allbritton.

The legal scuffle, which was first reported by the Houston Chronicle, alleges the IRS took an “alternative, inconsistent and unprecedented position” in stating that if the family company, Perpetual Corporation, did not give the art collection to the Allbrittons in 2005, it still gave them a taxable $64.8 million in dividends from the portfolio between 2005 and 2008. The IRS slapped the Allbrittons with $28.8 million in owed taxes over that period, plus another $22.88 million in interest and penalties. Joe Allbritton, who died in December 2012, left his estate to his wife and their son, though Robert Allbritton delegated authority over the tax issue to his mother last year, the Chronicle reports.

Over several decades, the Allbrittons built an enviable collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, including multiple works by Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Mary Cassat, Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, and Pablo Picasso. The jewel of the portfolio might have been Cézanne’s “The Roofs of l’Estaque,” which sold at auction in October 2009 for about $34 million, netting the Allbrittons a profit of about $20 million from their 2001 purchase.

The federal government has not yet filed its response to the suit.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.