What Matters in Romney's Tax Memo

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Mitt Romney's campaign released a memo summarizing 20 years of tax returns between 1990 and 2009. The full 2011 tax return will be released at 3 p.m. The full memo is pasted below. Here are five quick takeaways.

(1) The figures: In 2011, Romney made about $14 million. He paid $2 million in taxes. He gave $4 million to charity. It comes out to an "effective" charity-plus-tax rate of 43%. That's in line with his 20-year average: "Over the entire 20-year period, the total federal and state taxes owed plus the total charitable donations deducted represented 38.49% of total AGI."

(2) The gotcha moment: Romney only deducted $2.25 million of his $4 million in charitable donations, keeping his effective tax rate above 10%. Liberals are chiding him for saying

"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."

Yeah, yeah. Gotcha. Whatever. The more interesting observation, via Annie Lowrey, is that the Obama administration has proposed limiting charitable deductions for the wealthy to raise their effective tax rate ... and that's essentially what Romney did. 

(3) The false rumor: There was rumor that Romney was afraid to release his tax returns because he paid zero percent in 2009 when the market tanked. That rumor seems to be debunked. The lowest annual effective federal personal tax rate paid by Romney since 1990 was 13.66%.

(4) The 9% 12% possibility: If Romney had taken deductions for all his charitable donations, several people on Twitter pointed out based on back-of-the-envelope math, his tax rate would have been 9% 12%. Not his fault. Practically all his income comes from investments taxed under a preferential rate, and he has $4 million (!!) in possible charitable deductions.

(5) Yawn. This is new information, but what does it change, exactly? Not much, from a policy perspective. Mitt Romney still benefits from a tax system that gives tremendous preference to investment income over earned income. He still benefits from a loophole called "carried interest," which weirdly treats the profits from private equity firms as the equivalent of personal investments. Above all, his wealth affords him the world's smartest tax accountants who can help keep his tax rate low. I don't blame Romney for engineering his tax rate. (With $14 million a year, I'd be tempted!) I just still think we need a tax system that's simple and progressive enough to prevent hedge fund millionaires from paying ETRs like they're in middle- to upper-middle class.

_______

This morning, Gov. and Mrs. Romney filed their 2011 tax return with the IRS. At 3:00pm today, the Romney for President campaign will be posting the 2011 return online.

The complete 2011 tax return, with full schedules, statements, and attachments, will be made available with all other previously-disclosed information at www.mittromney.com/disclosure.

Also posted will be a notarized letter from the Romneys' tax preparer, PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP (PWC), giving a summary of tax rates from the Romneys' tax returns for the 20-year period of 1990-2009.

In advance of the posting of these new documents, I wanted to provide some top-line details.

Regarding the newly-filed 2011 Tax Return:

  • In 2011, the Romneys paid $1,935,708 in taxes on $13,696,951 in mostly investment income.
  • The Romneys' effective tax rate for 2011 was 14.1%.
  • The Romneys donated $4,020,772 to charity in 2011, amounting to nearly 30% of their income.
  • The Romneys claimed a deduction for $2.25 million of those charitable contributions.
  • The Romneys' generous charitable donations in 2011 would have significantly reduced their tax obligation for the year. The Romneys thus limited their deduction of charitable contributions to conform to the Governor's statement in August, based upon the January estimate of income, that he paid at least 13% in income taxes in each of the last 10 years.

As with the 2010 tax return, the 2011 tax return will appear as four separate documents. It includes Governor and Mrs. Romney's Form 1040 as well as three underlying Massachusetts trusts detailing the sources of their income. Those are The W. Mitt Romney Blind Trust, The Ann D. Romney Blind Trust, and The Romney Family Trust.

The investments within the trusts are managed on a blind basis by me, the trustee. I have sole responsibility for making, holding and disposing of the investments.

Regarding the PWC letter covering the Romneys' tax filings over 20 years, from 1990 - 2009:

  • In each year during the entire 20-year period, the Romneys owed both state and federal income taxes.
  • Over the entire 20-year period, the average annual effective federal tax rate was 20.20%.
  • Over the entire 20-year period, the lowest annual effective federal personal tax rate was 13.66%.
  • Over the entire 20-year period, the Romneys gave to charity an average of 13.45% of their adjusted gross income.
  • Over the entire 20-year period, the total federal and state taxes owed plus the total charitable donations deducted represented 38.49% of total AGI.

During the 20-year period covered by the PWC letter, Gov. and Mrs. Romney paid 100 percent of the taxes that they owed.

Finally, in addition to new documents related to tax filings, the campaign will also be posting on the same website physician letters for both Gov. Romney and Rep. Ryan, making public their current state of health.

After you have reviewed all of the newly-posted documents, you may have further questions. The campaign asks that you direct them to an e-mail account set up for that purpose. That e-mail address is returns @ mittromney.com.

Thank you.

R. Bradford Malt is a partner at Ropes & Gray, LLP. He has been the trustee of the Romney's blind trust since 2003.


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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