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“The Romneys Get Theirs”: How MItt Romney Used His Church’s Charity Status To Lower His Tax Bill

We already know that Mormon Mitt Romney has been tremendously generous to his church, giving over $5 million in the past two years alone, but now we learn that his charitable activity with LDS may not have been entirely altruistic. Bloomberg’s Jesse Drucker reports that Romney exploited the church’s tax-exempt status to lower his tax bill.

Romney reportedly took advantage of a loophole, called a charitable remainder unitrust or CRUT, which allows someone to park money or securities in a tax-deferred trust marked for his or her favorite charity, but which often doesn’t pay out much to the nonprofit. The donor pays taxes on the fixed yearly income from the trust, but the principal remains untaxed. Congress outlawed the practice in 1997, but Romney slid in under the wire when his trust, created in June 1996, was grandfathered in.

The trust essentially lets someone “rent” the charity’s tax-exemption while not actually giving the charity much money. If done for this purpose, the trust pays out more every year to the donor than it makes in returns on its holdings, depleting the principal over time, so that when the donor dies and the trust is transferred to the charity, there’s often little left. The actual contribution “is just a throwaway,” Jonathan Blattmachr, a lawyer who set up hundreds of CRUTs in the 1990s, told Bloomberg. “I used to structure them so the value dedicated to charity was as close to zero as possible without being zero.”

Indeed, this appears to be the case for Romney’s trust as well. Bloomberg obtained the trust’s tax returns through a Freedom of Information Request and found that Romney’s CRUT started at $750,000 in 2001 but ended 2011 with only $421,203 — over a period when the stock market grew. Romney’s trust was projected to leave less than 8 percent of the original contribution to the church (or another charity that he can designate). This, along with the trust’s poor returns — it made just $48 in 2011 — suggest the trust is not designed to grow for the LDS church but just serve as a tax-free holding pool from which annual payments can be disbursed to the Romneys.

This is hardly the first tax-avoidance strategy Romney has employed. It’s well known that he holds offshore bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, but he has used more obscure vehicles as well. There’s the “total return equity swap,” where a taxpayer calls a stock he owns by another name and doesn’t pay taxes on it. There’s the way he’s been avoiding gift and estate taxes through a trust that he set up for his children and grandchildren. And there’s the neat trick whereby private equity firms claim that management fees are capital gains and thus qualify for a lower tax rate than straight income. Bain Capital was known for pursuing an aggressive tax-mitigation strategy (they’re now under investigation for it), and so was Marriott Hotels when Romney was an influential board member.

And it’s not just taxpayers who lose out. “The Romneys get theirs off the top and the charity gets what’s left,” said Michael Arlein, a trusts and estates lawyer at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP. “So by definition, if it’s not performing as well, the charity gets harmed more.”

 

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, October 31, 2012

November 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Protecting National Security”: Ann Romney Thinks Mormon Missions Are Just Like Military Service

Thursday morning, Mitt ducked a scheduled performance on The View (more on that later), leaving his wife Ann Romney to represent the candidate’s views on those pesky “women’s issues” like abortion rights and military service.

Her answer on the latter question is turning some heads.

When pressed by Whoopi Goldberg on how Romney would explain why neither he nor any of his five sons served, Ann explained that the six men found “different ways of serving” by going on their Mormon religious missions.

“So, you know, we find different ways of serving,” she said. “And my husband and my five boys did serve missions, [but they] did not serve in the military.”

The substitution, she went on to explain, makes sense because the two share essential, character-building and altruistic values.

“I sent them away boys and they came back men. And what the difference was — and I think this where military service is so extraordinary too — is where you literally do something where you’re helping someone else. You’re going outside of yourself and you’re working and helping others. And that changes you,” she said.

The exchange began when Goldberg mistakenly asserted that Mitt Romney hadn’t served in Vietnam because it was against his religion. Goldberg’s statement was, to be fair, a clear misinterpretation of Mormonism (which is not at all a CST version of Quakerism), and Anne Romney quickly corrected her.

“That’s not correct,” she said pointedly. “He was serving his mission, and my five sons have also served missions.”

To set the record straight, Mormon missions are voluntary, non-violent trips focused on proselytizing about the Church of Latter Day Saints. Men begin their mission — which lasts for two years — at 18 or 19 years old. This month, the Church decided to allow women to begin their mission — which lasts for 6 to 18 months — as early as 19, down from the previous age of 21. The missionary practice is credited as one of the main reasons that the LDS Church is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States and in Central and South America. If Mormonism shares anything with U.S. military, then, it may be that both facilitate the exportation of Western cultural values across the globe.

Some veterans, however, are not so happy to hear the prospective First Lady equate a voluntary religious mission aimed at growing your religion with the sacrifice of serving in the U.S. military in the name of protecting American national security.

“Between my husband and I, we have a collective 10 years in the army. My husband was in Iraq in 2004, and I went to the Pentagon after 9-11. I am deeply offended by Ann’s comments. How can she believe her son’s missions could even begin to compare to our service? Not to mention those we served with who came home in body bags …” wrote a commenter on a discussion forum for those who have left the Mormon Church.

Meanwhile, as Ann was on The View, Mitt Romney made a surprise appearance at the meeting of a Colorado Political Action Committee — also known as a campaign funding PAC.

The group, the American Conservative Union, boasts of being one of the oldest conservative organizations in the country. It champions a mission statement that asserts “collectivism and capitalism are incompatible” … “our inherent rights are endowed by the Creator … [which] can remain secure only if government is so limited that it cannot infringe upon those rights” … and “the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties.” (Either the statement of principles hasn’t been updated, or next week’s foreign policy debate is going to be considerably more exciting than anticipated.)

Romney’s appearance on The View had been widely anticipated since he admitted at a private fundraiser that he was nervous about sitting down with the “non-conservative” and “sharp-tongued” women. This comment, along with the now infamous 47 percent comment, was recorded in a secret video leaked by Mother Jones.

Too bad Romney ended up having “scheduling problems” Thursday morning.

 

By: Laura Gottesdiener, Alternet, October 20, 2012

October 22, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Too Many Mitt’s”: Shameless And Shape Shifting; To Know Him Is To Mistrust Him

It will have zero effect on a certain Romney landslide in Utah, but the particular wording and reasoning of the Salt Lake Tribune‘s editorial endorsing Barack Obama will resonate far and wide. The “Trib” chose to write its repudiation of semi-favorite-son Mitt with the tone of someone familiar with a pol who’s sold his birthright for a mess of pottage:

Nowhere has Mitt Romney’s pursuit of the presidency been more warmly welcomed or closely followed than here in Utah. The Republican nominee’s political and religious pedigrees, his adeptly bipartisan governorship of a Democratic state, and his head for business and the bottom line all inspire admiration and hope in our largely Mormon, Republican, business-friendly state.

But it was Romney’s singular role in rescuing Utah’s organization of the 2002 Olympics from a cesspool of scandal, and his oversight of the most successful Winter Games on record, that make him the Beehive State’s favorite adopted son. After all, Romney managed to save the state from ignominy, turning the extravaganza into a showcase for the matchless landscapes, volunteerism and efficiency that told the world what is best and most beautiful about Utah and its people.

Sounds like the buildup to an endorsement, eh? Not hardly.

In short, this is the Mitt Romney we knew, or thought we knew, as one of us.

Sadly, it is not the only Romney, as his campaign for the White House has made abundantly clear, first in his servile courtship of the tea party in order to win the nomination, and now as the party’s shape-shifting nominee. From his embrace of the party’s radical right wing, to subsequent portrayals of himself as a moderate champion of the middle class, Romney has raised the most frequently asked question of the campaign: “Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?”

The evidence suggests no clear answer, or at least one that would survive Romney’s next speech or sound bite. Politicians routinely tailor their words to suit an audience. Romney, though, is shameless, lavishing vastly diverse audiences with words, any words, they would trade their votes to hear.

The editorial eventually gets around to some measured positive comments about Barack Obama, but it’s clear from the headline–“Too Many Mitts”–that its main thrust is aimed at showing not everybody in Utah is buying this particular snowstorm.

The president is entertaining audiences today by referring to his opponent with his vast number of serpentine manuevers as someone suffering from “Romnesia.” The Salt Lake Tribune begs to differ: Mitt hasn’t forgotten a thing; he’s just doing whatever the political markets call for, and hoping voters suffer from Romnesia.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 19, 2012

October 20, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Chosen One”: Mitt Romney’s Peculiarly Mormon Elitism

At first blush, it’s difficult to equate Mitt Romney’s faith with his recent comments that he’s powerless to convince America’s victim class–that 47% of the country he says are dependent on government entitlements–to vote for him. Isn’t Mormomism predicated upon the missionary effort to convert complete strangers (not to mention redistribution of wealth, through tithing)? Indeed, when the 47% video surfaced, many simply assumed the candidate was just pandering to the crowd of $50k/plate donors. The Real Romney was back somewhere in 2006.

But in his excellent piece on Romney’s work as Mormon state leader in Massachusetts, New York’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells makes a convincing case that Romney’s faith and his elitism are in fact closely linked. Wallace-Wells reports that Romney’s missionary work in Lynn, Massachusetts, during which he oversaw a mostly failed attempt to convert a Cambodian community, never discouraged him. While others in his Church grew frustrated at their fruitless efforts, Romney seemed satisfied with their minimal progress, telling a colleague that “if you only get a handful of members, that’s still a good result.”

Romney’s missionary efforts were guided by the belief that if one was able to correctly follow Church guidelines, he would achieve salvation. If not, oh well. As Wallace-Wells put it: “What he offered was salvation via a rule book, a recipe for getting ahead in America that had less to offer the doubters, the uncommitted, the foreign.” Romney, perhaps swayed by the influence of party elites and his running mate Paul Ryan, has now lumped 47% of America into that same category.

In this way, Romney conceived of himself as a member of a series of overlapping elite clubs–Mormons, businessmen, suburban family men–who have played by the rules, and justly reaped the benefits. Quoting the Mormon scholar Claudia Bushman, Wallace-Wells writes that Romney seems to abide by the traditional Mormon perspective that he is something of a chosen one, inhabiting “an island of morality in a sea of moral decay.”

But the idea of elite membership–of exalted status–goes beyond this. Mormon faith holds that men don’t only wish to please God, they can eventually join him, be him. As Harold Bloom–that sometimes scholar of Mormonism–wrote last fall in the New York Times, “Mormons earn godhead though their own efforts…the Mormon patriarch, secure in his marriage and large family, is promised by his faith a final ascension to godhead, with a planet all his own separate from the earth and nation where he now dwells.”

This is not to say Romney thinks Mormonism represents the only path toward material success. Rather, Romney’s own Mormonism–and his success by it–simply reinforces the merits of the “No Apology” elitism he’s adopted on the campaign trail.

 

By: Simin van Zuylen-Wood, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 30, 2012

October 1, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Pure And Delightsome”: Choose Right Gov. Romney, Not Racism

Dear Gov. (Bishop) Romney:

I’m assuming you’ll understand why, as someone who teaches the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a classroom, your comment yesterday at a rally in Michigan irked me tremendously. In case you’re trying to forget what you said, let me repeat it for you. “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this [Michigan] is the place that we were born and raised.”

I have tried my best to give you the benefit of the doubt. It seems however, that you are the same bully who cut your classmate’s hair back in high school. The reality is, you are the product of white privilege; some from your money, but also from the racist history of the LDS beginning with Brigham Young. You might think that it’s unfair to bring up the LDS’ troubled past, but I think it is, in part, a big issue for you in this campaign. Let me explain.

Most reporters focus on the 1978 revelation that black men could be part of the Mormon priesthood as the end of Mormon theology regarding race, though a recent op-ed in the New York Times by John G. Turner suggests that “race is still a problem for the Mormon Church because they have never repudiated nor apologized for it.” I agree with Turner. It is a problem for the LDS.

It is a greater problem for you, however, because you are running against the first African-American President of the United States. You are also from a persecuted minority, though you have chosen to take the trappings of whiteness, prosperity and privilege and make them your own. That is within your right. It is not a good look for you however, nor is it for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that you represent, whether you want to or not.

When you talk about “welfare” or the birth certificate “joke,” I think they are much more than a “dog whistle” to your base. I wonder if it also comes from Mormon theology which taught that black people are black because they are cursed as “fence sitters in heaven” and had the mark of Cain. If that’s not enough, the Book of Mormon, specifically 2 Nephi 30:6, said the Laminites would become “Whitesome and Delightsome” if they accepted the book of Mormon. Perhaps you have not noticed the text was changed to “Pure and Delightsome” in 1981. So, for you to continue to pick up race-bating is not only a tea party tell, it is a reflection, whether you like it or not, on the LDS past—no matter how many “I am a Mormon” commercials feature people of color.

What’s more, your own family history points to a painful past. Your grandfather escaped to Mexico to be able to practice his belief in polygamy (you and President Obama both have polygamy in your family history). Mormons have been persecuted for a long time, though your money and your father’s position protected you from associating with that persecuted past. It is part of you, no matter how much you cling to your privilege. Would it be too difficult for you to exercise some discretion, noting your own past, and realize that many African Americans are sick and damn tired of white people questioning the President of the United States about his birth certificate?

I hope you realize that because President Obama won in 2008, he had made it easier for you to run for President in 2012. Both the Republican Party and the religious right shunned you in 2008. Many Christian power brokers are holding their noses to vote for you because they hate President Obama more. Many wonder if you even are a Christian. So please, before you use racism and dog whistles against the president, consider your church’s past of persecution, and bigotry. Choose the right, if you can.

 

By: Anthea Butler, Religion Dispatches, August 25, 2012

August 26, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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