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Friday, December 2, 2016

Romney Releases 2011 Tax Return, Raises New Questions

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his wife Ann released their 2011 tax return online this afternoon, along with a summary of tax rates from their returns of 1990 to 2009.

In 2011, the Romneys paid $1,935,708 in taxes on $13,696,951 in income, which was mainly derived from investments. That makes their effective tax rate 14.1% for 2011.

They donated $4,020,772 to charity, claiming a deduction of $2.25 million. Interestingly, the Romneys’ trustee R. Bradford Malt wrote on campaign’s website:

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.

In other words, the Romneys paid extra to intentionally inflate their tax rate from about 12 percent to 14 percent. This is an odd decision, considering that Romney said in July that “frankly if I had paid more [taxes] 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.”

The letter summarizing the Romneys’ tax rates claims that the Romneys owed some amount in taxes in each year of the 20-year period, that their average annual effective federal tax rate in those 20 years was 20.20%, that the lowest annual effective federal personal tax rate was 13.66%, and that the Romneys paid 100 percent of the taxes they owed.

This does counter Senator Harry Reid’s accusation that Romney paid no taxes at all in some years, but it leaves several other unanswered questions. For example, by releasing averages of the data, Romney left open the possibility that he paid his lowest rates in the years where he made the most income, and vice versa. Having released a summary instead of releasing the tax returns themselves, Romney still lags behind the precedent set by every presidential candidate over the past 30 years aside from Senator John McCain.

The timing of the release suggests that the Romney campaign recognizes its vulnerability on the tax return issue. Traditionally, campaigns release damaging information on Friday afternoons in an effort to minimize the attention paid to it. That strategy didn’t appear to work for Romney; at 3pm, when the returns were released, the disclosure page of Romney’s website almost immediately crashed due to the amount of traffic flowing to the site.

It’s also worth noting that Romney chose to release his return at the end of the most difficult week of his entire campaign, which included the release of a secret videotape showing Romney denigrating 47 percent of the country, reports of infighting in his campaign, and Paul Ryan getting booed at a speech to the AARP. Romney may as well add in his tax return; after all, his week could hardly get any worse.

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