More in the Romney tax returns

More on those tax returns

Following up on those Friday-release Romney tax returns, a few quick observations

Mitt and Ann Romney’s IRS tax return for 2011 is posted here.

For the record, what has not been revealed by Romney is more interesting than what has been. Still, there are some items of interest in the limited and partial two-year disclosure the Romney team has vouchsafed.

From the top:

The headliner, of course, is the large amount of money involved.

Total adjusted gross income reported:   $13,696,951.

Largest single income source is from capital gains:            $6,810,176.

Next largest income source is dividends:                               $3,649,567.

Next largest income source is interest, including as previously written U.S. government interest:              $3,012,775.

The next thing one notes is the meticulous craftsmanship of Romney’s tax preparers, PriceWaterhouseCoopers.


The meticulousness is noticeable in regard to whatever reduces Romney’s tax liability. Pages to indicate losses, expenses and deductions are filled out copiously. Numerous tax credits are claimed, large and small. Two dollars ($2) in tax credits is claimed for example under Part III, General Business Credits or Eligible Small Business Credits, for “Increasing research activities (form 6765)”. Box checked: “General Business Credit From a Passive Activity.” Another twenty-five dollars ($25) for increasing research is claimed on another page, indicating a different pass-through entity.

Capital gains seem also to be meticulously included. For example, a $39 gain is declared for “Casualty or Theft of Property Held More Than One Year.” Cryptic.

Capital losses, on the other hand, apparently total $484,913.


‘Capital loss’ seems to wiggle up or down a little, depending on which page you’re on. This is probably the key on how Romney in person addresses questions, audiences, and fora on the campaign trail. Other people are thinking in terms of ‘flip-flopping’ or issues or the like. Romney is thinking in terms of long-term gain/loss.

Romney on air

Speaking of losses and write-offs, our tax code offers among numerous other deductions an Investment Interest Expense Deduction. This deduction might well have been intended to encourage investment in, say, factories and equipment. But evidently it can also be applied to capital-gains-type ‘investment’, such as in pass-through entities in the Caymans, Germany, and Ireland.

Romney’s net investment income reported:       $2,403,311.

Investment interest expense reported:                $640,876.

His deduction:   Ditto.

So just managing the investment income costs that? Or the part of the managing expenses that can be deducted?

On another matter, the Household Employment Tax and Social Security pages are left blank. Instead, a statement: “Beginning in 2011, the payroll tax returns and all applicable taxes for personal employees were remitted on a monthly basis and reported quarterly on Form 941.” Form 941 is not included in the releases. Protecting employees’ privacy is a good. The omissions leave PriceWaterhouseCoopers on the hook for seeing to it that there’s no funny business about employees’ Social Security.

Can, meet worms.

  • Chris Hayes on MSNBC has already pointed out that the trustee named on Romney’s blind trusts is also Romney’s own attorney. Here is the posted statement from Romney’s guy.
  • As stated, Romney actually chose to pay more taxes than he had to for 2011, by claiming less in charitable contributions than the handsome amount he gave. This filing decision was made, according to Romney’s guys, in order to make Romney’s taxes conform to his previous (July) statement on his usual tax rate.
  • Tax expert David Cay Johnston has also pointed out the careful wording in this statement, particularly re ‘owed’ versus ‘paid’. Nowhere does Romney’s statement on his taxes claim that Romney paid what he owed in the given tax year.
  • Numerous commentators have also noted that this year, for example, Romney can if he chooses go back and file an amended return, i.e. after the election, and claim the rest of his charitable deductions.

Worms, meet can.

One last sub-topic, in this dry matter of tax returns.

Many, many pages of the Romney tax returns: “Information Return by a Shareholder of a Passive Foreign Investment Company or Qualified Electing Fund” (Form 8621). Romney’s filing is particularly sensitive to the possible impression made by the category of foreign holdings, it would seem. Passive Foreign Investment Company (PFIC) holdings  in the Grand Caymans, etc., are repeatedly said to be held indirectly through Goldman Sachs (hint hint). The number of shares is always “unknown.” The dollar amounts appear to be minuscule. The large number of Form 8621’s included, demonstrating small amounts in holdings overseas, contrasts to the omission of that form about employee Social Security.

Interestingly, PFIC shares or amounts held in the Netherlands or in the Grand Caymans, etc., are UP in 2011 from 2010. Looks as if Romney was convinced in 2010 that he wouldn’t face much of a problem about them in the 2012 race. Could that have been an impression left by the 2010 elections?

Some shares in PFICs were purchased in (late) November 2010, in fact, and in December of the same year.

Narrowing down further to specifics, page after page of the tax returns indicate date acquired for PFICs as “12/14/2010.” Here, just for fun, is a Wall Street Journal article headline for that exact date: “Dems Sweat ObamaCare Ruling.”

An earlier bunch of Romney’s PFIC holdings had been acquired 9/16/2010. Sample headline for that date: “Poll: Climate grows rockier for Dems, Obama.”

Moving on–

Although the vastest sums in Romney’s wealth are capital gains, dividends and interest–unearned income–there is also a (relatively) small category of earned income. For author/speaking fees, American Talent Group LLC paid Romney $178,500. For director’s fees, Marriott International paid him $260,390.

Still, those amounts–which would be substantial for almost anyone else–are dwarfed by the capital gains category.

Short-term capital losses:             $2,292,120. Hefty write-off.

Long-term capital gain:  $9,033,933.

This over-all is the dominant pattern characterizing Romney’s tax posture: some short-term loss, far more than compensated by long-germ gain. A more precise way to interpret the facts might be, some short-term loss as a means to long-term gain. Some short-term loss paving the way to long-term gain.

It’s like buying a company, assuming costly debt/leverage, then treating the loss as another receivable–from the U.S. Treasury, in the form of tax adjustments–when subsequently selling the company.

Dade Behring is one illustration. As the New York Times reported in November 2011,

“Bain settled on a common tactic in private equity: In April 1999, it pushed Dade to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to buy half of Bain’s shares in the company—and half of those of its investment partners.

Bain pocketed the $242 million. Goldman received $121 million. Top Dade executives got $55 million, records show. The total payout to shareholders reached $420 million—nearly as much as the purchase price for Dade.”

Dade declared bankruptcy and was later bought by a German company.

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One Response to More in the Romney tax returns

  1. Pingback: Romney’s taxes and (almost) everybody else’s | Margie Burns

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