by Cora Currier, ProPublica
Last week, the website Gawker published more than 900 pages of documents from Bain Capital, the private equity firm Mitt Romney founded, and headed from 1984 until 1999. The document dump didn’t reveal much about Romney’s personal investments, but it added a bit more to the pressure on Romney to release more of his tax returns. Romney and his wife Ann have repeatedly rebuffed such calls. In a primary debate in January, Romney said he’d paid “all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more.”
So what do we know about how he avoided that extra dollar? For an overview of the questions surrounding Romney’s tax strategies, see Vanity Fair’s comprehensive story “Where the Money Lives,” and this commentary from tax lawyers Edward Kleinbard and Peter Canellos. We’ve also rounded up the best reporting on the central controversies.
What’s Been Disclosed?
Romney has released his 2010 tax return, and an estimate of his 2011 return. (He filed for an extension this year and has said he’ll release the full returns when they are finished. The deadline is Oct. 15). We also have 2010 returns for blind trusts for Romney, Ann, and their family, and the family foundation, as well as financial disclosures from his campaigns, beginning with his 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial run.
Mitt Romney said recently that he has paid “at least 13 percent” in federal income taxes each year, but the campaign won’t go into more detail (for a closer look at his 13.9 percent rate in 2010, see our previous reading guide). Ironically, it was Mitt Romney’s father, George, who set the precedent for the kind of comprehensive disclosure that’s standard for most presidential candidates: During his 1967 bid for the Republican nomination, he released 12 years of tax returns, saying that just one or two seen in isolation could be misleading.
Romney’s Bain Career
Buyout Profits Keep Flowing to Romney, New York Times, December 2011 The New York Times laid out how Romney’s generous retirement deal let him keep investing in new Bain funds for 10 years after he left the company in 1999. He got a share of the profits from 22 funds, as Bain’s assets grew 20-fold. (If you’re hazy on how private equity, or leveraged buyout firms, as they used to be commonly known, actually work, see Marketplace’s plain-speak explanation.) Such retirement deals aren’t without their critics among tax professionals. Lee Sheppard of the blog Tax Notes argues that compensation packages should not include capital gains from funds which the individual had nothing to do with.
Romney using ethics exception to limit disclosure of Bain holdings, Washington Post, April 2012 Candidates for federal office are required to disclose financial holdings, but since the 2004 election, the Office of Government Ethics has let candidates postpone reporting underlying assets in accounts that are bound by confidentiality agreements. That applies to most of Romney’s Bain assets. It’s not the first time a presidential candidate has used the confidentiality exception — in fact, in 2004 Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry didn’t report the underlying assets held in a Bain Capital fund by his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. But the size and portion of Romney’s assets that are shielded are unprecedented, according to the Post.