About that Fishy Romney IRA

I haven’t been much of a fan of the personalized Romney-bashing this campaign season. I avoid the rudely juvenile moniker “Willard.” I thought the whole “Corporations are people” supposed-gaffe was a stupid nothing. I find thinly-veiled attacks on Romney’s LDS heritage to be idiotic and reprehensible. I don’t know enough about Romney’s conduct at Bain to intelligently praise or criticize his managerial performance there.

If you are going to mount a direct personal criticism of a candidate, you should know what you’re talking about. You should say it straight without smarminess or insinuation. And you should put your name to it.

I’ll put my name to one issue. Governor Romney has–in practical, though quite possibly not legal terms–evaded paying his proper taxes. Of course, as a matter of broad policy, he’s taken advantage of loopholes to pay way too little. He and his Bain colleagues are exhibits A, B, and C in the case to tighten the carried interest thing and related provisions. His roughly-14 percent tax rate is galling. Yet the particulars of this suff go further, too.

I’ve presumed all along that whatever he did was legal and standard fare for the uber-wealthy. Now I’m rwondering. He’s been weirdly and unacceptably secretive about these matters. He hasn’t released the full history of his returns. His stance is doubly weird when one considers how strange it is for a major presidential contender to hold complicated offshore bank accounts in Switzerland or the Caymen Islands at all.

Then there’s that fishy IRA, which has a reported rough valuation of between 20 million and 100 million dollars. Given the $30,000 (or lower) annual contribution limits for an IRA, It strains credulity to believe that properly-valued securities of the legally-permitted value would swell by a factor of 1,000, as such securities apparently did.

It seems patently obvious that whatever securities Romney and his Bain colleagues initially contributed were under-valued for strategic tax purposes. The convoluted details of Bain’s divided classes of IRA securities hardly assuage my concerns. That wasn’t ethical or right. I’m not so sure it was legal, either.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.