Okay, I took a quick look through the Romneys’ 2011 tax return. There’s plenty that could be said (it is, after all, a 300+ page document), but I only want to highlight a couple things. Note that my explanations are based on reading his returns; to the extent I ascribe motive to the Romneys, it’s not because I know their hearts, but because that’s what the tax returns look like. And, with that caveat, here goes:
First things first: how can I trust you? How do I know you’re not a shill for [Romney/Obama/Ron Paul/Kodos]?
This is a Mormon-themed blog. For me, that means I’m not trying to convince you to vote one way or the other. I’m clearly not an undecided voter and you can probably figure out my politics if you know where to look.1 But, for purposes of T&S, I’m more interested in exploiting the fortunate confluence of tax and Mormonism in the news to leverage my eventual takeover of the blog.2
Okay, let’s start with the most important question: is Romney a full tithe-payer?
Okay, yeah, I get it. His tax return doesn’t separate out tithing from fast offerings from missionary fund from Book of Mormon fund. But you know what I mean: did Romney contribute 10-12% of his income to the Church?
But, on top of that, his 2011 returns give us a whole new set of problems. Not only do we still not know what Romney uses as his tithing base, we don’t know how much he contributed to the Church. His tax returns tell us that he donated $1.1 million in cash to the Church. He also donated $214,000 cash to his charitable Tyler Foundation, and made noncash donations of $912,000 to the Tyler Foundation. In 2010, Romney made about half of his donations to the Church directly and about half through the Tyler Foundation. But the Tyler Foundation hasn’t released its returns yet.
But wait, there’s more. Brad Malt says that the Romneys actually donated just over $4 million to charity, though they only deducted about $2.5 million.
Wait—you can do that?
Yes. Anyway, his tax returns don’t list donations he didn’t deduct, so we have no idea where his undeducted $1.5 million went.
I’m still trying to get my head around this: Malt says that he donated 30% of his income to charity in 2011. What possible reason could he have for not deducting the whole thing?
BuzzFeed’s Zeke Miller says he emailed the Romney campaign, and they responded that Romney “was in the unique position of having made a commitment to the public that his tax rate would be above 13%. In order to be consistent with that statement, the Romneys limited their deduction of charitable contributions.” My back-of-the-envelope calculation says that, had he deducted the full amount, he would have paid about 12.2% of his adjusted gross income in taxes in 2011.
The cynic in me has to know: won’t he just file an amended return and deduct the rest later?
He could. Like anybody else, he has three years from the date he filed his original return to file an amended return.
But will he? If he wins his presidential bid, I imagine he won’t. Presidents generally release their redacted tax returns every year of their presidency, and I don’t see any reason that he wouldn’t. And I imagine, in light of the controversies that have dogged his reticence to release returns, that he wouldn’t want to deal with that firestorm. If he loses, though, I can’t imagine a reason for him not to file an amended return.4
Which, speaking of, I notice that his return is dated 9/17/2012. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I had to file by April 15. Is this another of those benefits that accrue to the rich and are unavailable to the rest of us?
Nope. You, too, can file an application for an automatic extension of time to file. If you file for an extension, your tax return isn’t due until October 15. The form is on the second page of Romney’s return.
Awesome. No more April 15 for me!
One thing about that, though: even if you get an extension for filing, your taxes are still due April 15.
Did you notice that, notwithstanding his having a tax due of $1.9 million, Romney actually got a refund for 2011? It turns out, per line 73, that he paid estimated tax of $3.4 million earlier in the year.
So he didn’t know how much he made?
Unlike me (and, probably, you), Romney doesn’t make a lot of wage income.5 Most of his income comes from partnerships, which send out K-1s6 to partners to tell the partners their share of partnership income. But remember how Romney could get an extension on his tax return? So can partnerships; IIRC, with the extension, they don’t need to provide K-1s until September. But, until he gets his K-1s, Romney doesn’t know how much income he had for the year.7 So the best he can do is file an estimated return, and hope he doesn’t significantly over- or underpay what he owes.
- That place is not here. And this seems like as good a place as any to say: this thread is not for attacking anybody, including politicians who will never become aware of, much less read, T&S. So please comment, but please keep that in mind as you comment. ↩
- Note to other permabloggers: unless there’s something wrong with that, in which case, ignore that last clause. ↩
- Quick recap: he’s invested in partnerships; a partnership is not a taxable entity, but partners have to pay taxes on their share of partnership income during the year the partnership earns that income, whether or not the partnership distributes the income to partners. But there’s no reason to think that Romney would—or should—pay tithing on income that hasn’t been distributed to him. The pass-through for tax purposes happens essentially because partners avoid the second level of taxation they would face if they invested in a corporation. But corporations don’t pay tithing, so the dynamic is totally different. ↩
- Maybe this is a good time to remind you that I’m not an intimate of Romney or his attorneys or accountants, so I could totally be wrong. ↩
- Relative to his other income, I mean. As an absolute matter, he makes a lot from speaking ($190,000 in 2011) and sitting on board(s) of directors ($260,000). ↩
- Information returns, kind of like the 1099s you get from your bank telling you how much interest you earned, or from your mutual funds telling you how much income you had from your mutual fund investments. ↩
- Remember fn3 above? He doesn’t necessarily get the cash in hand, unlike you and me and our wages. ↩