With the documents Mitt Romney released recently, we know a bit more about his taxes.
We know, for instance, that Romney paid a rate of 14.1 percent on $13.7 million in income on his 2011 tax return, which he achieved by purposely overpaying. Though he was entitled to deduct $4 million in charitable contributions, Romney deducted only $2.25 million to keep his tax rate above 13 percent.
(Romney, it has been pointed out, could file an amended return to claim the full deduction after the election. We’ve contacted the Romney campaign, and Michele Davis, a spokeswoman, assured us he would not do so.)
We know, according to a letter from his accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers, that Romney has paid state and federal income taxes each year since at least 1990, which would seem to disprove Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s claim in July that Romney had not paid any taxes for a decade.
And we know that Romney’s tax rate since 1990 never dipped below 13.66 percent, according to his accountants. Romney paid an average effective tax rate between 1990 and 2009 of 20.2 percent.
But there’s still a lot we don’t know. “I think most of the major questions we had before [last Friday] are still out there,” said Brian Galle, a tax law professor at Boston College. Here are a few:
How much did Romney make before 2010?
While Romney has disclosed his average effective tax rate for the last two decades, he hasn’t said how much he earned in those years or how much — the dollar amount — he paid in taxes.
That’s an important distinction, said Daniel Shaviro, a tax law professor at New York University. Various tax-planning strategies may have enabled Romney to reduce his adjusted gross income in some years.
In 2008, for instance, investors everywhere lost money when the stock market tanked. Romney may have carried those losses forward, Shaviro said, and used them to reduce his adjusted gross income in 2009. While we know Romney paid at least 13.66 percent of the income he recorded on his taxes in a given year, we don’t know what percentage he paid of the money actually took home that year.
Why is Romney’s IRA worth so much?
Much of Romney’s wealth sits in his IRA, which is worth as much as $101.6 million. It’s a remarkable number, in part because Romney would have been able to contribute a maximum of $30,000 a year to his IRA while he was at Bain, from 1984 to 1999.
Galle, the Boston College tax law professor, said the most likely explanation for the outsized IRA is that Romney put in shares in Bain investments that swelled in value. According to the Wall Street Journal, Bain allowed employees to buy a special class of shares in the firm’s investments. The shares didn’t cost very much, but they could be extremely lucrative. In one deal, the Journal reported, “some Bain employees saw a 583-fold increase” in the value of their shares — an astronomical return. Because the shares were in IRAs, the profits could be plowed into new Bain deals without subtracting taxes.
Romney also may have beefed up his IRA by contributing “carried interest” — a share of the profits in funds managed by Bain. As Reuters reported earlier this year, any potential carried interest would “not be disclosed in his personal financial summary or on a federal income tax return.” In other words, even if Romney released all his tax returns, we still might not know exactly how he accumulated his huge IRA.
What about Romney’s investments offshore?
We know many of Romney’s IRA investments are based in foreign countries but it’s hard to know how much. He valued one account in the Cayman Islands at anywhere between $5 million and $25 million.
One thing we do know is that Romney pays a far lower tax rate overseas than he does here. According to Quartz, Romney paid only 2.4 percent in foreign taxes in 2011 on the $3.5 million he earned abroad.
We also know where Romney’s current overseas investments are held —Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, Luxembourg — and many of the firms he has invested in, including a state-owned Chinese oil company and a Chinese bank that Romney’s family trusts sold their stake in last year. But we don’t have a lot of other important documentation, including forms would show whether Romney had, as the New York Times has reported, “over the years declared all of his foreign income to the IRS in a timely manner.”
The Wall Street Journal has reported that Romney’s offshore IRA investments likely helped him avoid a little-known tax called the unrelated business income tax. The tax, “meant to discourage tax-exempt entities such as an IRA or college endowment fund from unfairly competing with for-profit, taxpaying entities by operating a business without paying taxes on it,” could have hit Romney at up to 35 percent.
The Romney campaign seems unlikely to release any more information about his finances, but that hasn’t kept reporters from digging it up. Bloomberg, for instance, analyzed securities filings to report last Thursday that Romney has set up a type of trust known as an “I Dig It” trust — a legal way for Romney to avoid estate and gift taxes and pass some of his fortune onto future generations.
By: Theodoric Meyer, Propublica, October 1, 2012
“Delusional Supporters”: Mitt Romney Has Almost Certainly Not “Already Paid Taxes On His Ordinary Income”
You can’t write about tax rates these days without getting shelled by those who feel their favorite Presidential candidate is being attacked by whatever you say.
That’s too bad, because it hinders the ability to have a reasoned discussion about taxes, which is a discussion this country desperately needs to have.
(Almost no non-partisan economist thinks our budget deficit can be solved by cutting spending alone. Taxes will almost certainly eventually have to go up. The question is by how much and on who and when. And that’s a debate we need to have in as cool-headed a way as possible.)
Anyway, anytime one points out that Mitt Romney pays a very low tax rate for a citizen who makes as much money has he does, one quickly hears from Romney supporters who say, effectively, the following:
You idiot. Don’t you understand the difference between taxes on “ordinary income” and taxes on “capital gains”? Mitt Romney already paid taxes on his ordinary income–at normal ordinary income rates! Now you want to tax him twice–by making him pay the same taxes on his capital gains!!!
(Some Mitt Romney supporters are much more polite when making this argument, which is much appreciated.)
To answer the question, yes, I do understand the difference between taxes on ordinary income and taxes on capital gains. And I understand the rationale for having the two tax rates be different (to provide an incentive for investors to risk their capital and thus help build businesses that employ people). And I actually agree with that rationale. I don’t think we can afford to have the difference between the two tax rates be as big as it is, but I agree with the rationale.
But here’s the thing…
Romney’s supporters are almost certainly wrong when they assert that Romney “already paid taxes on his ordinary income” and that now he’s just risking his “capital.”
This is because Mitt Romney has almost certainly taken advantage of one of the most outrageous tax loopholes in our entire tax code: The “carried interest” tax exemption.
This loophole allows money managers to structure the performance fees they are paid as “capital gains” instead of as ordinary income.
The loophole therefore allows money managers to avoid paying ordinary income taxes on their performance fees and then make much bigger bets than they would be able to make if they actually had to pay taxes on their earnings. When the money managers use very sophisticated tax shelters, it also allows them to defer paying taxes for years (if not decades)–and then only pay low long-term capital gains rates instead of ordinary income rates.
Although we don’t know for certain that that’s what Mitt Romney has done (because he won’t release his tax returns), it seems highly likely that this is what he has done. And, in fact, the obvious unfairness of this tax loophole seems like one big reason he won’t release his returns.
To be clear:
Taking advantage of the “carried interest” tax loophole is not illegal or wrong. Romney has done what any smart tax-minimizing person in his position would have done.
But the loophole itself is outrageous.
And the existence of the loophole means that Mitt Romney has almost certainly not “already paid taxes on his ordinary income.”
Rather, Mitt Romney has probably figured out ways to make sure that many of the fees he was paid for managing clients’ money at Bain were directed into future Bain investments before he paid taxes on them. These Bain investment then presumably did extraordinarily well, and Romney’s pre-tax ordinary income compounded tax free. And now, presumably, Romney is paying himself “dividends” or “long-term capital gains distributions” out of these Bain funds, which means that not only his original fee income but his pre-tax investment gains are being taxed at vastly lower long-term capital gains tax rates.
If Mitt Romney had actually paid ordinary income taxes on his fee income and then bet his after-tax income on future Bain investments, those who support today’s low rates on long-term capital gains would be justified in saying this is perfectly defensible, fair, and acceptable.
But Romney almost certainly didn’t.
Rather, Romney almost certainly took advantage of an outrageous tax loophole to take home tens or hundreds of millions more dollars than he would have if he had paid ordinary income tax rates.
So the Mitt Romney supporters who suggest that he paid these rates, unfortunately, appear to be delusional.
By: Henry Blodgett, Business Insider, August 17, 2012
Mitt Romney, who secured the number of delegates needed for the Republican nomination last week, said early on that this election is a choice between President Barack Obama’s “entitlement society” in which people are dependent on government benefits, and his “opportunity society” where business is free to flourish.
But if you take Romney’s own life as representing a governing philosophy, he has the dichotomy backward. Romney is the one who has taken advantage of government entitlements — the ones that flow to the wealthy. And his interest in opportunity lies with rich investors who exploit government rules, often to the detriment of Main Street. Romney’s use of the federal bankruptcy courts to extinguish debts owed to suppliers, shops and service providers is a perfect example — more on that later.
For starters, let’s tick off some of Romney’s favorite government entitlements:
• Special tax rules allow him to pay federal income taxes of just 15 percent on his millions in “carried interest” profits, capital gains and dividends. The rest of us pay a rate of up to 35 percent on income from work.
• Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney founded and ran from 1984 to 1999, only succeeded due to a major tax loophole. Bain was able to deduct the interest on the massive loans taken out to finance the purchase of its takeover targets — loans secured with the companies’ own assets. In 2008, Germany put limits on this kind of tax shenanigans, but don’t expect anything that enlightened to happen here.
• Romney’s firm also enjoyed government largess in the form of job creation tax breaks. Just the year before Dade Behring, a Bain company, closed its operations in Puerto Rico in early 1998, with nearly 300 workers losing their jobs, the company received federal tax break of $3 million for promoting jobs there and a $4.1 million tax exemption from Puerto Rico.
But there is no big government entitlement as magical or beloved by Romney and Bain than the get-out-of-debt-free card bestowed by federal bankruptcy court.
Dade Behring went bankrupt, leaving Main Street creditors empty-handed, but not before Romney’s firm took $242 million out of it. In fact, of Bain’s 10 top business investments that made up 70 percent of the $2.5 billion Bain made for investors, four eventually went bankrupt, according to the Wall Street Journal.
That’s called winning for losing, a game perfected by top 1 percenters.
For a closer look at one destructive bankruptcy, read “Romney Economics: Cheat Main Street,” a column by Leo Gerard in the Huffington Post (http://tinyurl.com/dylorbl).
Gerard documents the way Bain left Main Street businesses licking their financial wounds as it legally absconded with millions in management fees, dividends and other distributions. His featured example is American Pad and Paper Co. (Ampad) that Bain bought from Mead Corp. in 1992. Bain remained the company’s largest single shareholder through 1999, and three Bain executives sat on its board. In 2000, the company filed for bankruptcy, leaving debts to suppliers of more than $180 million. Even so, Bain came out smelling like money. It had invested $5 million and took out more than $100 million.
Eleven years after Ampad filed for bankruptcy, as Gerard points out, the company’s nearly 1,300 unsecured creditors finally got a pittance of what was owed: Green Bay Packaging Inc. was owed $75,500 and received $137; Lakeway Container Inc. was owed $47,100 and received $89; American Coffee Break Service was owed $1,300 and was paid $2.56. The bankruptcy trustee’s final report lists page after page of Main Street businesses receiving less than a penny on the dollar. Had that $100 million flowed to Ampad’s suppliers rather than Romney and Bain investors, it would have covered more than half the debts.
Romney desperately wants to convince the public that Bain operated in the best interests of Main Street and that he didn’t get fabulously rich under government-rigged rules. But the man exemplifies the special tax breaks and legal shields from creditors that the wealthy see as their right.
That’s Romney’s “entitlement society.”
By: Robyn E. Blumner, Columnist, Tampa Bay Times, June 3, 2012
When the Supreme Court struck down the core of our country’s campaign finance laws in 2010, in the landmark Citizens United case, most of America didn’t take notice. After all, politicians already looked too cozy with the wealthy donors who bankrolled their elections. How much worse could it get?
Plenty. Even as super PAC spending was set to break the $100 million mark before Memorial Day, it was easy to consider corruption less pressing than issues like finding a job. But this election cycle is showing us how a rigged democracy produces a rigged economy — and how the ironically named Citizens United decision now stacks the deck against the 99 percent of Americans still working too hard to make ends meet.
How have things gone from bad to worse?
First, these “independent expenditures” are proving to be anything but independent. Restore Our Future is known openly as former Gov. Mitt Romney’s PAC, and he’s its chief fundraising draw. The PAC is staffed by former Romney aides, and its treasurer is Romney’s former general counsel from 2008. Oil billionaire Harold Hamm gave $985,000 to the “independent” PAC one month after Romney named him as chairman of his Energy Policy Advisory Group.
Second, their size is exploding. Romney’s super PAC alone spent $46 million before Memorial Day — more than all the outside groups combined in the past election cycle. This allowed Romney to outspend Rick Santorum’s grass-roots campaign by 400 percent during the pivotal Ohio primary — which Romney won by just 1 point.
Third, people writing million-dollar checks are not neutral observers without a financial stake in the policy debates of the day. As of mid-May, 15 organizations backed by these individuals had contributed more than $1 million each to Romney through his super PAC. Of those donors, 10 are hedge fund managers or investment holding companies that stand to profit handsomely from tax loopholes and financial deregulation that they are now actively promoting to Romney. This is about a return on investment. Small donors can’t afford to play at this table.
Restore Our Future then funnels these mega-donations into campaign ads with populist themes about job creation. But the real agenda is a disaster for middle-class and working-class Americans.
Consider the “carried interest tax loophole,” a special deal that exempts the fund managers who bankrolled the ad from paying the 35 percent income tax on the bulk of their compensation. Romney’s top donors instead pay a much lower 15 percent, and leave the middle class to pick up the $10 billion tab. A hedge fund manager with $100 million in gains could save as much as $25 million in taxes — not a bad return on the investment in Romney’s candidacy.
As consumers were taking it on the chin at the gas pumps this spring, oil speculators profited from the price spikes. And worse, a leaked document showed the new profits were funneled directly into ads attacking President Barack Obama for trying to close tax subsidies for big oil companies — thanks to Citizens United. This Orwellian twist was lost on most voters, because there’s no obligation to disclose the donors behind these attacks.
Before Citizens United, corporations were banned from making contributions to candidates running for federal office, and individuals were limited in how much money they could contribute. Citing this decision, an appellate court then effectively removed any limits on individual or corporate contributions to candidates, by allowing this money to go to groups clearly identified with the candidate. The court reasoned that contributions given to outside organizations could not be corruptive in the same way that money given directly to the candidates can be.
Now, super PACS are actively accepting unlimited contributions from individuals, unions and corporations. The vast majority of Americans have never had the influence of the powerful — but what was once an uneven playing field now resembles Mount Everest.
A Congress elected by the people can take immediate steps. The DISCLOSE 2012 Act will require super PACs to list their top donors as part of any advertisements and provide for more timely disclosure of all donors after large expenditures.
But the larger burden lies with the Supreme Court. A majority of its nine justices now or in the future must reclaim our democracy from the highest bidder and hand it back to the American people. This tightly rigged political process will only exacerbate the growing insecurity of our working and middle class.
This elections season, we would all be wise to tune out the flood of nasty political spots. But we must not ignore the buying and selling of influence it represents — and how this system silences the voices of the American people.
By: Tom Perriello and Amy Rosenbaum, Politico, May 29, 2012
Unlike Mitt Romney, most Americans who will pay their taxes today can’t afford fancy accountants. But Romney has reluctantly made public his tax returns, and thus shared valuable strategies to ensure that he pays a far lower rate than, say, Warren Buffett’s secretary. Citizens for Tax Justice recently waded through Romney’s 2010 return—in which his $22 million in income was miraculously taxed at just 13.9 percent—to come up with a handy primer for how you, too, can beat the IRS at its own game. To paraphrase:
1. Don’t work for a living
The tax rate on money earned actually working (“salaries and wages”) can be more than double the rate on money earned sitting around watching your investments go up in value (“capital gains”), thanks to the work of other people. Almost all of Romney’s income is taxed as capital gains.
2. If you work, disguise your compensation as capital gains
About half of the $15 million in capital gains and dividend income Romney reported in 2010 was actually compensation for his work at Bain Capital. But using a tax loophole favored by private-equity guys, he was able to get paid by taking equity stakes in deals that he put together (“carried interest,” in tax parlance) instead of in the proletarian form of a fully taxable salary. Bonus: This allowed Bain to avoid paying Medicare payroll taxes.
3. Give to charity—but not with cash, checks, or money orders
In 2010, Romney was able to write off $1.5 million worth of Domino’s Pizza stock he donated to a charity. It is likely that he originally received the stock as compensation from Bain, in which case the price he paid for it would have been close to zero. In this scenario, by donating the stock instead of selling it and donating the cash, Romney would have saved about $220,000 in taxes.
4. Give to charity—but not now
Romney’s return reports income from the W. Mitt Romney 1996 Charitable Remainder UniTrust. Not only is the trust tax exempt, but when Romney set it up 16 years ago, he got a tax deduction for making a charitable donation. Though the money in the trust is eventually supposed to go to charity, Romney can receive income from the trust for a number of years—quite possibly for the rest of his life.
5. Give to charity—your own
In 2010 Romney made a tax-deductible, $1.5 million donation to the Tyler Charitable Foundation, which he controls. Commanding your own foundation allows you to curry favor with political and business allies by donating money to their pet organizations and causes. For instance, in 2010 the Tyler Charitable Foundation donated $100,000 to to the George W. Bush Library.
6. Do not invest in America
Certain foreign investment vehicles allow you to avoid certain taxes. For example, Romney’s Individual Retirement Account could bypass the Unrelated Business Income Tax by investing through a foreign corporation. Though it’s hard to know whether Romney availed himself of those kinds of savings, he has invested substantially in foreign entities, including ones based in offshore tax havens such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Luxembourg.
7. Invest in sexy financial instruments
Romney earned $415,000 from an investment that gets special tax treatment: Through an accounting loophole, 60 percent of the profits from the investment are treated as long-term capital gains, a designation that has tax benefits, no matter how long the investment is held.
8. Borrow money to invest
While you can’t deduct interest from car loans or credit cards, you can write off interest on the money you borrow to make certain types of investments—for instance, if you borrow from a broker to buy stock (a “margin loan”). Portfolio management fees are also write-offs. A fellow like Romney, who makes his millions mainly from investments, could probably deduct a fair sum.
9. Push the limits of the law
When you engage in a type of transaction that the IRS views as potentially abusive, you must disclose it in a separate form. In 2010, Romney filed six such forms.
10. Be part of the 1 percent
When it comes to taxes, it costs money to save money. You’ll need to hire lawyers to help you set up tax-exempt charities and trusts or exploit offshore tax havens—and a professional money manager if you plan to invest in sexy financial instruments. It probably won’t be cost effective if you aren’t already rich, but any hard-working son of a governor can land a job at a private-equity firm and start getting paid in carried interest. Bonus: You might make enough money to one day run for president.
By: Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones, April 17, 2012