Romney's Funny Money

Since the Republican primary got occupied, we've gotten a chance to see some of the nifty things you can do to protect your wealth if you're as rich as Mitt Romney.

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Since the Republican primary got occupied, we've gotten a chance to see some of the nifty things you can do to protect your wealth if you're as rich as Mitt Romney. The South Carolina primary was supposed to be the "mean" primary -- as in racist -- but instead it's been dominated by discussion of how Romney made his money, how he got in the position to make it, and, this week, what he's done to keep it. Here's our guide to the interesting things Romney does with all that cash money.

Unusually Huge IRA
Romney's retirement account holds between $20.7 million and $101.6 million, and it's "highly unusual to accumulate such a considerable sum in an IRA," The Wall Street Journal's Mark Maremont reports. IRAs with more than $100 million are "rare," the Journal says, and while the size has enabled Romney to avoid paying a lot of taxes on his wealth now, he might have to pay big fees later, when he's required by law to start withdrawing from the account six months after his 70th birthday. Romney got between $1.5 million and $8.5 million in income from his IRA between January 2010 and August 12, 2011.
His IRA probably got so fat through its investments in Bain Capital, the Journal reports, pointing out that it's possible Romney avoided paying a large tax when his IRA invested in the private-equity fund by using offshore accounts. "Tax experts say that might explain why Mr. Romney's IRA includes holdings in Bain entities based in offshore locations, including one Cayman Islands entity that Mr. Romney listed as having a value between $5 million and $25 million," Maremont writes.
Accounts in the Cayman Islands
As we noted Thursday, ABC News reports that Romney keeps millions of dollars in the Cayman Islands, which it calls "a notorious Caribbean tax haven." Romney has up to $8 million in 12 investments funds registered in the Caymans, ABC says, and another investment worth between $5 million and $25 million based there. Bain Capital has 138 funds in the Caymans. Romney's campaign insists he pays the same taxes as he would in the U.S., but Politico's Mike Allen writes, "ABC changes headline on Brian Ross story from 'Romney Parks Millions in Offshore Tax Haven' to 'Romney Parks Millions in Cayman Islands.' You know it's a rough day for your campaign when that's a victory!"
State income Tax a Secret
Romney's campaign wouldn't tell The New York Times where he pays state income tax. He has homes in three states. The property tax the Romneys paid is public record, though, and they've paid $920,000 since 2007. They were charged $134,909 for their beach house in California in 2009, and after they appealed, the bill was dropped to $125,292, the Times reports.
Tons of Money to the Mormon Church
The teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints says followers should tithe 10 percent of their income. Romney has been a generous giver, the Times reports. The Romneys have given $9.5 million to their family foundation since 1999, and the foundation has donated $4.7 million to the Church and $300,000 to its college Brigham Young University. Romney has also donated stock:

[R]ecords from the Securities and Exchange Commission show that the Mormon Church has reaped more than $13 million over the last 15 years by selling shares in companies that Bain Capital invested in, including Burger King Holdings and Domino’s.

The Romney campaign said some of Mr. Romney’s tithing had been stock donations. But it is impossible to glean from the filings which shares were donated at Mr. Romney’s behest and which were donated by other Bain employees. (The company had several Mormon partners.) The shares the church sold included more than $700,000 in holdings in the DDi Corporation and American Pad and Paper, two companies that Bain invested in and that eventually filed for bankruptcy.

That 15 Percent Tax Rate
Like everything else we've listed that Romney does with his money, the 15 percent tax rate he pays is legal. Still, Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, writes for the Christian Science Monitor that "It’s legal but it’s a scandal." The 15 percent rate is "lower than the tax rate most of America’s middle class face and far lower than the 35 percent top rate after the Bush tax cut. (To put this in perspective, recall that the top income tax rate under Dwight Eisenhower was 91 percent.)"
Reich calls the tax rule that allows private-equity managers to report their income as capital gains a "loophole." Bloomberg's David J. Lynch, Lisa Lerer and Sabrina Willmer use the nicer term "special tax provision," but still note it's one that "even some of his richest friends would envy." The method is rare outside the investment management industry, says Victor Fleischer, an associate law professor at the University of Colorado, and "Ordinary people wouldn’t be able to do this."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.