Try as they might to shift to the economy, something always gets in the way for the Romney campaign. In this case, it’s the actions of Mitt Romney throughout his life to wall off his fortune from the Internal Revenue Service and ensure a continuing Romney aristocracy for the next generation.
First, even by what little we know from the release of Romney’s own tax returns in 2010 and 2011, we can divine that he took advantage of a particular investor status to save millions.
“As we have said many times before, Governor and Mrs. Romney’s assets are managed on a blind basis. They do not control the investment of these assets. The investment decisions are made by a trustee,” spokeswoman Michele Davis said.
But according to his 2010 tax return, when the Internal Revenue Service comes calling in April, Romney has a different answer: The presumptive GOP nominee reaps lucrative tax breaks for “active” participation in the private equity firm he founded, as well as a host of other investments […]
The IRS advises that “[f]actors that indicate active participation include making decisions involving the operation or management of the activity, performing services for the activity, and hiring and discharging employees. Factors that indicate a lack of active participation include lack of control in managing and operating the activity, having authority only to discharge the manager of the activity, and having a manager of the activity who is an independent contractor rather than an employee.”
Even if Romney could persuade the IRS his involvement was legitimately active, that still leaves him in a rhetorical jam: For tax purposes, he claims an active status; for political purposes, he claims to have zero to do with the investments.
The active investor designation allows Romney to write off losses at a 35% rate, while capital gains are paid at a 15% rate. As the HuffPo scribes put it, “Tax policy is subsidizing Romney’s risk in his Bain investments.” In addition, in the 2010 return, Romney listed over $547,000 in business expense deductions based on his “active investor” status in the business partnership at Bain Capital. Remember that Romney insists he left Bain in 1999 and has taken no part in any management decisions. These deductions get written off at 35%.
Perhaps more galling are the dynastic trusts Romney has set up for his children, to shield his fortune from taxes:
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, have used sophisticated estate- planning techniques for more than a decade to minimize taxes and amass at least $100 million for their family outside of their estate.
The couple created trusts as early as 1995, when Romney was building wealth as chief executive officer of Bain Capital LLC. They packed one for their children with investments that stood to appreciate and set up another for charity that provides a tax deduction and income. The candidate’s retirement account, valued at as much as $87.4 million, may benefit his heirs for decades.
“It’s beneficial for your kids and grandkids to push the money downstream,” said David Scott Sloan, chairman of the national private wealth services estate-planning practice at the law firm Holland & Knight LLP in Boston. “The Romneys appear to be doing things that are similar to what other high-net-worth families do.”
This is basically done to avoid the estate tax. The trust funds do get taxed at the lower capital gains rate, but they aren’t factored into the estate in later years.
None of this is particularly illegal, though it may skirt the lines. Rather, as in much of tax policy, the tragedy is what’s legal when you have a lot of money. In that sense, the Romney candidacy can be seen as quite instructive.