You don’t have accounts in the Caymans? What a chump.
Back in January, when he was asked during a primary debate about the taxes he pays, Mitt Romney made the somewhat odd assertion that “I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more. I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.” As I’ve written before, this would seem to indicate that Romney believes that if you don’t have a team of accountants who can ferret out every last loophole to minimize your tax bill then you’re just a sucker, so pathetic that you are unworthy of occupying the highest office in the land. But maybe I was being unfair. After all, I’ve been critical of the campaign habit of reading too much into any particular statement a candidate makes. We all say things that upon reflection we’d like to put another way or take back completely, so maybe Romney didn’t quite mean it the way it sounded.
But once you repeat a statement like that more than once, we can be pretty sure you do in fact mean it. And based on what he said in an interview yesterday with ABC News, we can be pretty sure Mitt Romney genuinely believes that if you paid an extra dollar to the federal government, then you’re not just a chump, you’re such a chump we wouldn’t want you to be president:
From time to time I’ve been audited as happens I think to other citizens as well and the accounting firm which prepares my taxes has done a very thorough and complete job pay taxes as legally due. I don’t pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president. I’d think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires.
Think about this for a moment. Romney thinks that paying more than you owed, or even failing to take advantage of every last loophole and tax shelter you could, is so despicable it’s disqualifying, as though it were a moral transgression on par with, I don’t know, stealing a car or abusing your wife or something.
Not only that, both times he has said this he projects the belief onto other people as well. “I don’t think you want someone” the first time, “I’d think people would want me” this time. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say this has its roots in Romney’s time in the private equity world. If you’re investing with a private equity firm, you want the leader of that firm to be smart, thorough, and ruthless. You want him to squeeze every last penny he can from every available source, and of course minimize the taxes he and you will pay. If he says, “I could have set up an elaborate network of shell companies in the Caribbean, but I decided not to,” you might think he had failed you, since the only goal in the endeavor is to make as much money as possible and keep the government’s hands off it.
But the presidency isn’t the chairmanship of a private equity firm, and maybe, just maybe, the qualities that make one effective at the latter aren’t precisely the qualities we want in the former.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the real issue is that we have a tax system that allows people like Mitt Romney, who takes in about $20 million a year despite the fact that he hasn’t actually held a job in five years other than running for president, to pay a laughably low tax rate, while people who actually work for a living pay a far higher proportion of their income in taxes. Weirdly, Romney thinks that system is just peachy, and he would actually like to tilt it even farther in favor of the wealthy.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 30, 2012
On the issue of Mitt Romney’s tax returns, my colleague George Will put it simply: “The cost of not releasing the returns are clear. Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”
The question is what could be in them that would be so damaging to the Romney campaign. Right now, the most popular theory is that Romney simply didn’t pay any federal taxes at all in 2009. As Joshua Green wrote, ” It’s possible that he suffered a large enough capital loss that, carried forward and coupled with his various offshore tax havens, he wound up paying no U.S. federal taxes at all in 2009.”
But the tax experts I’ve spoken to are skeptical. “Romney had a $4.8 million capital loss carryover coming into 2010,” says Edward Kleinbard, a professor of tax law at the University of Southern California. “So that means no capital gain income in 2009. If you look on the first page [of his 2010 tax return], though, he had lots of ordinary income (interest mostly), and dividends, which are taxed at the same rate as capital gains but which cannot be sheltered from tax by capital losses. So presumably he had some positive income tax in 2009.”
Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, agrees. “It’s unlikely that his taxable income was zero or even close enough to zero that his credits would zero out his tax liability completely,” he says.
But Daniel Shaviro, a tax professor at New York University, isn’t so sure. “I think there’s an excellent chance that [Romney] didn’t pay any taxes in 2008 or 2009,” he says. But to get from a small federal tax liability to no federal tax liability, Romney would have needed to engage in incredibly aggressive tax planning. Shaviro mentions picking loser investments to get some benefits from “loss harvesting,” unusual tax shelters, and a bevy of other stuff that, frankly, I don’t totally understand.
The overriding question, though, is why would Romney do any of this. As Shaviro says, “If you were running for president and in his position, wouldn’t you think of telling your transaction people not to take you down too low in 2008 and 2009?”
When I asked whether these kinds of structures were simply too difficult to cleanly unwind over a couple of years, Shaviro was skeptical. “The Caymans structures might take some time to unwind, and there might be tax planning issues about not screwing up the unwind too badly, but come on, the guy has been in public life since 2002 and was aiming for the White House from the start. Plus, suppose he had tax shelters in 2009 that created losses. It’s not complex not to do these deals – all you have to do is…not do them.”
For what it’s worth — and, since I haven’t seen Romney’s 2009 tax return, it’s not worth much — my guess is he paid some federal taxes in 2009. The sort of tax sheltering he would have needed to get to zero would be quasi-suicidal for a presidential aspirant. But his effective federal tax rate may only have been 3 or 4 or 5 percent, which would be nearly as bad as zero. Add in a couple of shelters that Romney fears would look particularly bad, and it’s probably enough to persuade him that enduring a bit of bad press for tax decisions people think he might have made is preferable to a media feeding frenzy over tax decisions he definitely made.
The question none of this answers is why Romney didn’t clean up his taxes in 2008 and 2009. But it’s always worth remembering that the people running for office are human beings who procrastinate and make bad decisions and get distracted by other things. And given that Romney moves in a world where aggressive tax planning is the norm rather than the exception, he might simply have failed to recognize what a priority simplifying his taxes really was. My hunch is that the person spending the most time wondering why Romney didn’t get his taxes in order in 2008 is…Mitt Romney.
By: Ezra Klein, Wonkblog, The Washington Post, July 17, 2012
“No Shortage Of Stupid Ideas”: Romney Vows No Tax Returns Unless Meeting Transcripts With Foreign Leaders Released
In the wake of a report raising questions about whether Mitt Romney exploited a tax shelter in the 1980s, the Obama campaign is calling for the release ofRomney’s tax returns during those years.
Instead of simply saying no, Romneyland attempted to sidestep the issue with what might just be the dumbest deflection ever:
“The Obama campaign is playing politics, just as he’s doing in his conduct of foreign policy,” Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul wrote. “Obama should release the notes and transcripts of all his meetings with world leaders so the American people can be satisfied that he’s not promising to sell out the country’s interests after the election is over.”
I cannot even begin to comprehend the delusions that Romneyland must be under to think that this is a reasonable response. Never mind the false equivalency—President Obama has already released his own tax returns despite Mitt Romney’s refusal to do so—it’s absurd to think that any president would be wise to publicly release the transcripts of every conversation he ever has with any foreign leader. If that were the policy, it wouldn’t result in more transparency, it would simply mean that presidents would no longer have meaningful conversations with foreign leaders, because no foreign leader in their right mind would agree to such terms. And can you imagine the diplomatic fallout from retroactively and unilaterally breaking confidentiality across the board for past conversations?
There’s been no shortage of stupid ideas to come out of Romneyland, but this is one of the stupidest. But even if we cut them some slack and say that it’s so stupid that they couldn’t possibly really mean it, it still doesn’t change this fact: Unlike President Obama, and unlike his father, Mitt Romney is unwilling to release his tax returns. So, what’s he hiding?
By: Jed Lewison, The Jed Report, Daily Kos, March 30, 201