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The Choice, Lies and Perfectly Legal Tax Havens

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama during his last rally the night before the general election November 5, 2012 in Des Moines, Iowa. [via Huffington Post]

AFTER PRESIDENT Obama had his final rally in Iowa, CSPAN took their usual calls. One lady in particular stood out. She introduced herself as a Christian then started talking, eventually getting to the point that she still was undecided. Steve Scully said she’d called on the Republican line. But her problem, she said, was that Mitt Romney had “lied” about things and it bothered her. At the end of the short conversation it was clear she still hadn’t reconciled this fact.

It’s doubtful this woman read the Bloomberg story or the Huffington Post report on Monday, both of which made news on a subject that has dogged Mitt Romney since the beginning of the campaign: taxes.

Mr. Romney has gotten away without explaining anything in detail on his taxes, so it requires news organizations to go digging, which includes filing Freedom of Information requests, because the Romneys and their lawyers have no intention of being transparent.

From Bloomberg:

In 1997, Congress cracked down on a popular tax shelter that allowed rich people to take advantage of the exempt status of charities without actually giving away much money.

Individuals who had already set up these vehicles were allowed to keep them. That included Mitt Romney, then the chief executive officer of Bain Capital, who had just established such an arrangement in June 1996.

The charitable remainder unitrust, as it is known, is one of several strategies Romney has adopted over his career to reduce his tax bill. While Romney’s tax avoidance is legal and common among high-net-worth individuals, it has become an issue in the campaign. President Barack Obama attacked him in their second debate for paying “lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less.”

In this instance, Romney used the tax-exempt status of a charity — the Mormon Church, according to a 2007 filing — to defer taxes for more than 15 years. At the same time he is benefiting, the trust will probably leave the church with less than what current law requires, according to tax returns obtained by Bloomberg this month through a Freedom of Information Act request. …

“CRUT” is explained like this in the Bloomberg article: “The main benefit from a charitable remainder trust is the renting from your favorite charity of its exemption from taxation…”

What also happens is that over time what actually goes to the charity ends up being slim to nil. People who utilized this tax shelter could feel good and look good, while never actually having to part with any of their cash.

“…what’s going to go to charity is probably close to nothing…”

It’s all “operated in accordance with the law,” campaign spokeswoman Michele Davis said in an e-mail to Bloomberg.

You can see why Mitt Romney doesn’t want scrutiny on his tax strategies, trusts or anything else financial. But when he reports charitable donations in the multiple millions, the use of this particular shelter, CRUT, puts a new light on his (ahem) generosity.

The woman calling CSPAN, I have little doubt, knew nothing of Romney’s tax maneuvers. Yet something about him bothered her. He “lied.”

To which I respond, he’s a politician, so it comes naturally on some level, because having your life picked apart is no fun, especially when you have things to hide to which ordinary Americans likely can’t relate.

What else is there in Romney’s taxes that would shed light on his actual financial status and how he keeps his cash hidden?

This story from Bloomberg gives new meaning to the phrase charity begins at home. For the Romneys we now learn it stays at home, too.

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3 Responses to The Choice, Lies and Perfectly Legal Tax Havens

  1. ladywalker68 November 6, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    Thanks for this, Taylor. It explains why Romney FAILED to be forthcoming and release more of his returns. It is easy to give a summary about some BS 30% donation to charity when it is completely bogus.

    This is one major reason I could never vote for the man and I actually was considering it last year, before I got to know what little of himself he decided to reveal during the campaign.

    Last year, this time, I actually believed there was more “There, there…” But now, my perception is that more than anyone else in today’s political theatre, Romney is the perfect metaphor for an empty suit.

    • Taylor Marsh November 6, 2012 at 10:12 am #

      Happy Election Day, my friend ladywalker68!!!!

      It’s so exciting…

      Yep, and it took a FOIA request to get the info. It reveals cynicism of deep degree.

  2. Jane Austen November 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Isn’t it funny that I’m terrified of getting audited by the IRS with what amounts to a measly income and declare everything to the penny even to itemizing the things I donate to charity and Romney can be so cavalier about his income and can get away with declaring what amounts to legalized hocus pocus as far as I’m concerned. Something doesn’t compute here because the IRS would probably come after me before they came after Romney. :)

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