Romney's use of the charitable deduction

His 2011 tax liability topped 13 percent only because he didn't claim the full amount.

Posted: September 23, 2012

WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney has given Democrats plenty of support for their claim that he manipulated his deductions to keep his overall 2011 federal income tax rate above a certain threshold for political purposes.

The Republican presidential nominee, whose wealth is estimated as high as $250 million, seems hemmed in by a comment to reporters in August that he had never paid less than 13 percent in taxes in any single year over the last 10. Had he taken the full charitable deduction last year, it would have pushed his tax liability below 13 percent.

The former Massachusetts governor and his wife, Ann, could have claimed more in deductions, the trustee of Romney's blind trust said when the candidate's 2011 tax returns were released.

But, Brad Malt acknowledged, the couple "limited their deductions of charitable contributions to conform to the governor's statement in August, based on the January estimate of income, that he paid at least 13 percent in income taxes in each of the last 10 years."

Reid's claim

The tax returns had become a distraction for his campaign, with Democrats and even some fellow Republicans this summer urging Romney, who earlier had released 2010 data and a preliminary 2011 return, to disclose more than two years of information. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) had kept the issue alive by making an unsubstantiated and roundly criticized claim that Romney had not paid any taxes for 10 years. Romney's statement about the 13 percent level had come in reaction to Reid's assertion.

Romney probably also will be reminded by the Democrats by something else he said in August. Defending his right to pay no more taxes than he owed, he said: "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."

The decision of Romney's trustee to limit the use of charitable deductions in 2011 to adhere to the candidate's claim raised the eyebrows of several tax-law experts. They noted that the trustee's use of numerous tax strategies gives Romney the rare ability to loosen or limit his tax payments at will.

'What else?'

The Romneys donated roughly $4 million to charities last year, but only claimed a deduction of $2.25 million on their tax return, filed with the Internal Revenue Service on Friday.

That information, Reid said, "reveals that Mitt Romney manipulated one of the only two years of tax returns he's seen fit to show the American people - and then only to 'conform' with his public statements. That raises the question: What else in those returns has Romney manipulated?"

Romney made $13.7 million last year and paid $1.94 million in federal income taxes, giving him an effective tax rate of 14.1 percent. That was a bit above the 13.9 percent rate paid on 2010 income.

More precisely, the returns showed that the couple paid $1,935,708 in taxes on income of $13,696,951.

Romney released his 2010 returns in January, but he continues to decline to disclose returns from previous years.

The Romney campaign has released a letter from his accountants saying that in the 20 years prior to 2010 the Romneys paid an average annual effective rate of 20.2 percent, never lower than 13.66 percent.

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