US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gestures while speaking at an election rally in Sterling, Virginia, June 27, 2012. Reuters/Jason Reed
Mitt Romney has been very reluctant to release his tax returns. In all his previous campaigns he refused to release any of them. This time, under pressure, he has given us only the last two years.
But he must disclose more. If you want to know why, read Nicholas Shaxson’s piece in the new issue of Vanity Fair. In it, Shaxson raises important questions about some strange aspects of Romney’s financial history:
§ What is in Romney’s offshore accounts? He has sheltered much of his wealth in tax havens such as Bermuda, but he has not disclosed anything about those investments. For instance, Shaxson writes, “There is a Bermuda-based entity called Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors Ltd., which has been described in securities filings as ‘a Bermuda corporation wholly owned by W. Mitt Romney.’ He set it up in 1997, then transferred it to his wife’s newly created blind trust on January 1, 2003, the day before he was inaugurated as Massachusetts’s governor…. Romney failed to list this entity on several financial disclosures, even though such a closely held entity would not qualify as an ‘excepted investment fund’ that would not need to be on his disclosure forms. He finally included it on his 2010 tax return. Even after examining that return, we have no idea what is in this company, but it could be valuable, meaning that it is possible Romney’s wealth is even greater than previous estimates.”
§ Why is Romney still being paid by Bain Capital? He left the firm more than ten years ago. Given its varied investments, could the fact that he is still being paid by them create a conflict of interest in office? Shaxson writes, “Though he left the firm in 1999, Romney has continued to receive large payments from it—in early June he revealed more than $2 million in new Bain income. The firm today has at least 138 funds organized in the Cayman Islands, and Romney himself has personal interests in at least 12, worth as much as $30 million, hidden behind controversial confidentiality disclaimers.”
§ Why has Romney opened foreign bank accounts, such as a Swiss account with $3 million that appeared on his 2010 returns but not his 2011 returns? How much has kept in offshore accounts in the past? Was he betting against the strength of the US dollar? How might such financial interests affect his policies as president?
§ Are Romney’s blind trusts really blind? Their trustee is Bradford Malt, his personal lawyer. Malt invested $10 million of Romney’s money in the Solamere Founders Fund, co-founded by his son Tagg and Spencer Zwick, a Romney campaign fundraiser. Malt’s and Romney’s claims that this is coincidental and Romney knew nothing of it strains credulity. If Romney knows what his blind trusts invest in, how might his investments influence his political decisions?
§ How much has Romney invested with Elliot Associates? Shaxson reports, “Elliott buys up cheap debt, often at cents on the dollar, from lenders to deeply troubled nations such as Congo-Brazzaville, then attacks the debtor states with lawsuits to squeeze maximum repayment. Elliott is run by the secretive hedge-fund billionaire and G.O.P. super-donor Paul Singer, whom Fortune recently dubbed Mitt Romney’s ‘Hedge Fund Kingmaker.’ (Singer has given $1 million to Romney’s super-pac Restore Our Future.) It is hard to know the size of these investments. Romney’s financial disclosure form lists 25 of them in an open-ended category, ‘Over $1 million,’ including Solamere and Elliott, and they are not broken down further.”
§ How did Romney build a $102 million Individual Retirement Account (IRA)? Did he avoid paying taxes in doing so? During Romney’s fifteen years at Bain Capital taxpayers were allowed to put only $2,000 annually into IRAs and $30,000 into another fund. Romney won’t say how his account generated such astronomical returns. The only explanation anyone has come up with, offered by Wall Street Journal reporter Mark Maremont, is that Romney stuffed his account with deliberately undervalued shares of Bain stock. Incidentally, Bain is still contributing to Romney’s and his wife’s IRAs.
§ Did Bain serve as a tax haven for foreign criminals? As Shaxson explains, “Private equity is one channel for this secrecy-shrouded foreign money to enter the United States, and a filing for Mitt Romney’s first $37 million Bain Capital Fund, of 1984, provides a rare window into this. One foreign investor, of $2 million, was the newspaper tycoon, tax evader, and fraudster Robert Maxwell, who fell from his yacht, and drowned, off of the Canary Islands in 1991 in strange circumstances, after looting his company’s pension fund. The Bain filing also names Eduardo Poma, a member of one of the ‘14 families’ oligarchy that has controlled most of El Salvador’s wealth for decades; oddly, Poma is listed as sharing a Miami address with two anonymous companies that invested $1.5 million between them. The filings also show a Geneva-based trustee overseeing a trust that invested $2.5 million, a Bahamas corporation that put in $3 million, and three corporations in the tax haven of Panama, historically a favored destination for Latin-American dirty money—’one of the filthiest money-laundering sinks in the world,’ as a US Customs official once put it.”
Shaxson does not allege that Romney or Bain has ever broken the law. But the public has a right to know about the ethics and probity, not mere legality, of Romney’s personal and professional financial history. Romney has made business experience the central pitch of his candidacy, so how can he claim that how he manages his money is irrelevant?