One irony of Mitt Romney’s leaked criticism of the 47% of Americans who don’t pay income tax is that Romney may be a member of the club himself since he pays almost no income tax relative to his vast wealth.
Don’t believe it? Ask Mitt Romney. In a January debate, Romney criticized a proposal by Newt Gingrich to eliminate capital gains taxes because ultra-wealthy investors like Romney would pay virtually no taxes at all in such a scenario. That’s because Romney’s estimated $250 million fortune comes almost entirely from investment income that isn’t covered by income tax.
“Under that plan, I’d have paid no taxes in the last two years,” Romney said at the time.
He may have overestimated the effect on his taxes, but not by much. In 2010, he would have paid a 0.82% tax rate. The issue gained renewed attention in August, because his running mate Paul Ryan had also proposed eliminating capital gains taxes.
But 2010 may have been an unusual year. Romney published a bestselling book and made some money on the speaking circuit, generating $593,996 in traditional income. Hardly chump change, but a tiny proportion of his $21 million income that year overall.
It’s possible that in other years, without these sources of revenue, Romney made far less, perhaps next to nothing, in earned income subject to income taxes. There’s no way to know because Romney has refused to release any of his earlier tax returns. By his own account, however, Romney seems to think that without capital gains he’d hit “no taxes.” So if he hasn’t been a member of the 47% at one point in his career, he’s certainly scraped close to the border relative to his income.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.