Here’s a very interesting development in the Mitt Romney tax story. Apparently, he claims on his tax returns to still be an active participant in Bain decisions even while telling voters that he can’t be held responsible for anything Bain has done since he left in 1999 (or 2002, depending on which day it is). And he does so to save millions of dollars in taxes:
But according to his 2010 tax return, when the Internal Revenue Service comes calling in April, Romney has a different answer: The presumptive GOP nominee reaps lucrative tax breaks for “active” participation in the private equity firm he founded, as well as a host of other investments.
As David Kautter, a tax expert at American University, explains, the concept of active investment has different meanings for the IRS and for regular people. “When you say you’re actively involved in all these businesses, people do think, OK, you’re actively involved. But the tax law has its own definition,” he said.
The IRS advises that “[f]actors that indicate active participation include making decisions involving the operation or management of the activity, performing services for the activity, and hiring and discharging employees. Factors that indicate a lack of active participation include lack of control in managing and operating the activity, having authority only to discharge the manager of the activity, and having a manager of the activity who is an independent contractor rather than an employee.”
Even if Romney could persuade the IRS his involvement was legitimately active, that still leaves him in a rhetorical jam: For tax purposes, he claims an active status; for political purposes, he claims to have zero to do with the investments.
The distinction is valuable, for the IRS treats passive and active income and losses differently. If a passive investment loses money, the taxpayer can only write off that loss if passive gains have also been made. But active losses can be written off at a 35 percent rate and deducted from the taxpayer’s ordinary income. In other words, a taxpayer wants active losses, not passive losses. So by describing many of his investments as active, Romney saves himself millions of dollars in taxes.
With those active investments, he is also securing a tax break few Americans enjoy: When he wins, he’s paying a 15 percent rate on the gain. When he loses, he’s writing it off at 35 percent, meaning that tax policy is subsidizing Romney’s risk in his Bain investments…
Romney’s 2010 tax return lists $301,630 in “trade or business interest” deductions and $503,737 in “trade or business expense” deductions — all of it described as expenses from his business partnerships, including Bain. Specifically from his various Bain-related activities, Romney scored a total of $547,525 in such deductions.
These kinds of deductions are only available to “active” participants in business partnerships. While Romney filed as an active participant for tax purposes, there is no evidence that he took part in Bain management decisions in 2010, and he has denied doing so.
Which means he’s lying to the IRS and he did not, as he has so often claimed, paid every dollar in taxes that he is legally required to pay.