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Thursday
Jan262012

Romney Failed to Disclose Swiss Bank Account Income

ABC News (BOSTON) -- Mitt Romney's campaign is amending the financial disclosure form he filed in 2011 to acknowledge that a Romney trust earned interest income from a Swiss bank account, a detail that had been missing from the report.

"An amendment is being filed to address this minor discrepancy," a campaign official told ABC News in an email Thursday in response to questions about the apparent omission.

"The inescapable fact is that by releasing over 600 pages of information regarding his finances, Mitt Romney is clearly coming down on the side of disclosure," said Andrea Saul, a campaign spokeswoman, in a subsequent statement. "Any document with this level of complexity and detail is bound to have a few trivial inadvertent issues. We are in the process of putting together some minor technical amendments, which will not alter the overall picture of Gov. and Mrs. Romney's finances as disclosed in August."

The discovery that the Romneys had $3 million in an account with the Swiss bank UBS came only after the Republican presidential candidate released his tax returns for 2010 on Tuesday. The campaign had maintained that it was not necessary to disclose the Swiss account because Romney's money manager, Brad Malt, had shuttered it in early 2010.

Several Republican election lawyers told ABC News Thursday that the account still needed to be disclosed because a Romney trust earned about $1,700 in income on the account during 2010. The campaign's decision to amend the forms was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

At the same time, questions from ABC News about undisclosed income that appeared on Newt Gingrich's tax return have led Gingrich to announce that he, too, will be amending his financial disclosure report. Gingrich's returns showed he received $252,500 in wages from Gingrich Holdings Inc. in 2010, but those wages do not appear anywhere on his presidential disclosure report.

"An internal account review found the need to amend the reporting," said a Gingrich campaign official. "It was done immediately."

Romney also decided to amend the report from his 2007 run for president, a decision first reported by The New York Times. That form identified a UBS money market account, but did not clarify that it was held by his wife's trust. UBS has branches in the United States, so it would not have been readily apparent that the account was in Switzerland. Those who track the finances of presidential candidates said they found the failures to disclose these key financial details distressing. Bill Allison, editorial director of the non-profit watchdog group the Sunlight Foundation, said the whole purpose of the disclosure reports is for candidates to provide an honest look at their finances to voters.

"Obviously, if you don't give them the information before the vote, it defeats the whole purpose of disclosure," Allison said.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the non-partisan group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said she, too, was dismayed -- noting that while in Congress, Gingrich had been called out for failing to include information on his disclosure reports.

"You'd think someone once sanctioned by the House of Representatives...would be a little more careful with his financial disclosure forms," she said.

The discovery that Romney's vast holdings included an account in Switzerland, a country long notorious for helping the very wealthy hide their assets, came during his release of his tax return earlier this week. Malt, who oversees Romney's blind trusts, acknowledged during a conference call with reporters that he decided to shut down the Swiss account because he worried it could create a headache for Romney's campaign. "It might or might not be consistent with Governor Romney's political views," he said. "The taxes were all fully paid…it just wasn't worth it. And I closed the account."

That suggests, Allison said, that the campaign had a motivation to exclude any evidence of the Swiss account from the candidate's forms. The Romney campaign called the omission an oversight.

Allison noted that there is generally no penalty for a candidate who leaves something off a disclosure report, and then goes back to amend the report if the missing information is discovered.

"Nobody is going to get into trouble for this," he said. "That is the problem with the disclosure system."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan182012

Romney Parks Millions in Cayman Islands

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Although it is not apparent on his financial disclosure form, Mitt Romney has millions of dollars of his personal wealth in investment funds set up in the Cayman Islands, a notorious Caribbean tax haven.

A spokesperson for the Romney campaign says Romney follows all tax laws and he would pay the same in taxes regardless of where the funds are based.

As the race for the Republican nomination heats up, Mitt Romney is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a shroud of secrecy around the details about his vast personal wealth, including, as ABC News has discovered, his investment in funds located offshore and his ability to pay a lower tax rate.

"His personal finances are a poster child of what's wrong with the American tax system," said Jack Blum, a Washington lawyer who is an authority on tax enforcement and offshore banking.

On Tuesday, Romney disclosed that he has been paying a far lower percentage in taxes than most Americans, around 15 percent of his annual earnings. It has been Romney's Republican rivals who have driven the tax issue onto center stage. For weeks, Romney has cited a desire for privacy as his reason for not sharing his tax returns -- a gesture of transparency that is now expected from presidential contenders.

"I can tell you we follow the tax laws," he said recently while on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. "And if there's an opportunity to save taxes, we like anybody else in this country will follow that opportunity."

But tax experts tell ABC News there are other reasons Romney may not want the public viewing his returns. As one of the wealthiest candidates to run for president in recent times, Romney has used a variety of techniques to help minimize the taxes on his estimated $250 million fortune. In addition to paying the lower tax rate on his investment income, Romney has as much as $8 million invested in at least 12 funds listed on a Cayman Islands registry. Another investment, which Romney reports as being worth between $5 million and $25 million, shows up on securities records as having been domiciled in the Caymans.

Official documents reviewed by ABC News show that Bain Capital, the private equity partnership Romney once ran, has set up some 138 secretive offshore funds in the Caymans.

Romney campaign officials and those at Bain Capital tell ABC News that the purpose of setting up those accounts in the Cayman Islands is to help attract money from foreign investors, and that the accounts provide no tax advantage to American investors like Romney. Romney, the campaign said, has paid all U.S. taxes on income derived from those investments.

"The tax consequences to the Romneys are the very same whether the fund is domiciled here or another country," a campaign official said in response to questions. "Gov. and Mrs. Romney have money invested in funds that the trustee has determined to be attractive investment opportunities, and those funds are domiciled wherever the fund sponsors happen to organize the funds."

Bain officials called the decision to locate some funds offshore routine, and a benefit only to foreign investors who do not want to be subjected to U.S. taxes.

Tax experts agree that Romney remains subject to American taxes. But they say the offshore accounts have provided him -- and Bain -- with other potential financial benefits, such as higher management fees and greater foreign interest, all at the expense of the U.S. Treasury. Rebecca J. Wilkins, a tax policy expert with Citizens for Tax Justice, said the federal government loses an estimated $100 billion a year because of tax havens.

Blum, the D.C. tax lawyer, said working through an offshore investment vehicle allows the investor to "avoid a whole series of small traps in the tax code that ordinary people would face if they paid tax on an onshore basis."

Wilkins agreed, saying the "primary advantage to setting those funds up in an offshore jurisdiction like the Cayman Islands or Bermuda is it helps the investors avoid tax."

"It helps U.S. investors avoid U.S. tax," said Wilkins, "it helps foreign investors avoid taxes in their home country, so it's not illegal or improper to set those funds up in a foreign jurisdiction, but it makes it more attractive to investors because it helps them avoid paying taxes on that income."

Bain's presence in the Cayman Islands is not something the firm advertises. The Los Angeles Times first disclosed Romney's offshore accounts in 2007, during his initial run for the presidency. ABC News found references to the firm's accounts in the Caymans in the footnotes of securities filings. When ABC News went to the office address listed for Romney's Bain funds, lawyers in the Caymans were not eager to answer questions.

Asked if he could confirm the existence of the Bain accounts, David Byrne, the chief marketing officer for the law firm Walkers, listed on documents as Bain's Caymans' representative, said he could not. "No, I can't at all," said Byrne. "Unfortunately, I can't comment at all on that."

There is now less secrecy than there was even two weeks ago surrounding Romney's tax rate. The money he made through Bain investments was taxed as capital gains at a 15 percent rate, instead of the higher tax rates borne by most Americans. Newt Gingrich told reporters Wednesday that his income was taxed at 31 percent.

The so-called "carried interest" rule has been the source of extensive debate in Washington, with opponents criticizing the allowance to tax those earnings at 15 percent a glaring loophole that benefits only the wealthiest Americans. Under the carried interest rule, income that is determined to be capital gains -- like the profit reaped by hedge fund managers -- is subject to the lower 15 percent rate.

Wilkins said Romney's arrangements reminded her of the now-famous remarks by billionaire financier Warren Buffet, who revealed in 2007 that he was paying taxes at a lower rate than his receptionist.

"Well, I think it's the issue that is sort of on the front page every day, when we look at the Occupy Wall Street movement and that people are really losing patience with the idea that a lot of multinational corporations have and a lot of wealthy people have that while they benefit from everything this country has to offer...they don't seem to be willing to pay their fair share," she said.

Romney, who left Bain in 1999, has confirmed that his earnings largely come from investments, and the tax rate he pays is consistent with that "because my last 10 years, my income comes overwhelmingly from some investments made in the past, whether ordinary income or earned annually. I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away. And then I get speaker's fees from time to time, but not very much."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio