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October Gift to Charity Was a Sure Sign of 2016 Romney Run

January 14, 2015

"I want to be president." With that statement to his deepest-pocketed donors, Mitt Romney pretty much put an end to the phony Hamlet role he's been playing ever since Barack Obama beat his ass over two years ago. But despite Ann and Mitt's repeated declarations that "we're not doing that again," since October 13, 2014 there has been no doubt that Romney 2016 was a certainty. Because it was on that date that the Romneys--for the first time--engaged in a very public act of charity towards people who were not members of their hermetically sealed circle of family, friends, co-religionists and business associates.
Now, that may be an incredibly cynical statement to make. But Mitt Romney is an incredibly cynical man. And when your indelibly etched public persona is that of a chronically "out of touch" private equity parasite incapable of hiding your disdain for the "47 percent", what better way to make amends than to give a "substantial gift" to fight diseases afflicting millions of Americans? As the Los Angeles Times reported last October:

On Tuesday at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the Romneys are launching the Ann Romney Center for Neurological Diseases, a research facility that will focus on finding cures and new treatments for Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease (known as ALS), Parkinson's disease and brain tumors.
Fresh off a presidential effort that raised nearly a billion dollars, Ann Romney hopes to raise $50 million to lay the groundwork for the center's research into the five diseases that affect about 50 million people in the U.S.

To be sure, Ann Romney, who has fought her own battle against Multiple Sclerosis since 1998, has done a great deal to draw attention and resources to MS, ALS and other neurologic diseases. Nevertheless, Mitt's open love letter on October 13 to "the 15 year old girl I fell in love with almost 50 years ago" should have made clear to all that the Romneys' private act of charity was meant for public consumption.
That's why it's important to put the Romneys' donation (they are not disclosing the amount) into context. For starters, that undisclosed substantial gift was almost surely less than the $10 million Ann and Mitt gave their son Tagg to start up his own company, Solamere Capital. (Romney was only living his advice to college students, whom he told in 2012 to "take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.") The Ann Romney Center could have been almost fully funded by the $45 million of his own money Mitt Romney spent in his failed 2008 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. And if Romney, who is now no doubt worth far more than the $250 million estimated almost a decade ago, had succeeded in eliminating the estate tax, he could have funded Ann's pet project from his pocket change.
Now, as anyone who saw the hagiographic documentary Mitt can attest, Romney seems like a devoted family man and shrewd numbers guy with a deep religious faith. But as voters clearly understood in 2008 and 2012, Romney's empathy ends where the world outside his family, church and businesses begins. Almost all of the "7 incredible personal stories about Mitt Romney you may not know" dutifully laid out by his right-wing stenographers--his compassion for a terminally ill child, his rescue of a friend's missing daughter, his helping a dying, 14 year old boy write his will, his support for , quadriplegic church members--occur within the ranks of his co-religionists and close business associates.
But when it comes to giving back to the country, Mitt Romney has tried to give as little as possible. And the less said about it, the better.
That starts with the Romneys' tax returns. While Mitt have John McCain 23 years of his returns as part of his failed quest to secure the VP nomination in 2008, the American public only got two. How and why Ann and Mitt pay a lower share of their income in taxes to Uncle Sam that many working families may have something to do with it.
As it turns out, the same man who said that his required contributions to his LDS church shouldn't be politicized has also repeatedly claimed they make his paltry tax rate "really closer to 45 or 50 percent."
Mitt's on-again, off-again reticence regarding his church donations resurfaced in a pre-Republican convention fluff piece published by Parade. As the Salt Lake Tribune reported:

Mitt Romney says in a new interview that one of the reasons he's distressed about disclosing his tax returns is that everyone sees how much money he and his wife, Ann, have donated to the LDS Church, and that's a number he wants to keep private.
"Our church doesn't publish how much people have given," Romney tells Parade magazine in an edition due out Sunday. "This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one's financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It's a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church."

Make that a personal thing between the Romneys, their God, their church and the millions of Americans who think the Bain Capital tycoon doesn't pay nearly enough in taxes to Uncle Sam.
In January, Mitt Romney reluctantly admitted that he paid under 15 percent in federal taxes, a share smaller than many middle class families. Given the horrible appearances for a man who claims to be part of "the 80 to 90 percent of us" who are middle class, Team Romney set out to polish Mitt's tax turd. As Romney spun it to Jorge Ramos of Univision on January 25:

Well, actually, I released two years of taxes and I think the average is almost 15 percent. And then also, on top of that, I gave another more 15 percent to charity. When you add it together with all of the taxes and the charity, particularly in the last year, I think it reaches almost 40 percent that I gave back to the community. One of the reasons why we have a lower tax rate on capital gains is because capital gains are also being taxed at the corporate level. So as businesses earn profits, that's taxed at 35 percent, then as they distribute those profits as dividends, that's taxed at 15 percent more. So, all total, the tax rate is really closer to 45 or 50 percent.

Romney restated the point during a GOP debate in Florida. He did the math for Wolf Blitzer and Newt Gingrich:

"My taxes plus my charitable contributions this year, 2011, will be about 40 percent."

To drive the point home, the Romney campaign web site proclaims that "a number of key points should be kept in mind." Among them:

Second, the Romneys take to heart "to whom much is given, of him shall much be required." Accordingly, they have been extraordinarily generous in their charitable giving, donating over $7 million from 2010-2011, averaging over 16% of their income.

Put off by the "small-minded" 63 percent of Americans who believe he should release more of his tax returns, just last week Romney announced that he never paid less than 13 percent in taxes (which ones he didn't say) over each of the last 10 years. Once again, Mitt insisted that get credit for the dollars donated to the LDS:

"Every year, I've paid at least 13 percent, and if you add, in addition, the amount that goes to charity, why the number gets well above 20 percent."

Not to the U.S. Treasury it doesn't.
Now, millions of Americans give to their houses of worship each year. Religious donations represent far and away the largest share of Americans' charitable giving. (It also explains why red-staters give a larger share of their income to charity. But if faith-based donations are excepted, blue-state Americans are the bigger donors.) But Mitt's squeamishness about his sizable donations isn't so much about who is receiving them, but what they contain.
For the former bishop and Boston "stake president," most of his charitable giving is in the 10 percent tithe required by his church. As the AP explained:

Romney reports he will give a total of $4.13 million to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over two years as part of his overall charitable donations. The former Massachusetts governor reported income of about $43 million for the two years. Separately, over the past decade, Romney and his wife, Ann, have given more than $4.7 million to the denomination through the Tyler Charitable Foundation, a multimillion-dollar trust the couple leads.

But as ABC News documented earlier this year, "the private equity giant once run by the GOP presidential frontrunner carved his church a slice of several of its most lucrative business deals, securities records show, providing it with millions of dollars worth of stock in some of Bain Capital's most well-known holdings." In its article "In Bain deals, Romney gave stock to Mormon church," Reuters explained the massive savings Mitt likely reaped on his tax bill as a result:

Tax analysts said the donation method used by Romney and Bain generally worked like this:
Romney was eligible to invest in the stock of companies that were being restructured by Bain. Romney and other Bain investors usually were able to purchase the stock at very low prices.
Through the years, such stock may appreciate in value, sometimes considerably.
The analysts said that if Romney and others at Bain got a stock cheap and eventually donated it to a church or charity without cashing in the stock, then they could get two tax benefits.
First, they would not have to pay capital gains tax on the appreciated value of the stock, which they would have to do if they sold the stock and either pocketed or donated the proceeds.
Second, they might be able to deduct all, or at least part of, the value of the donated stock from their taxable income.
Such a move can save wealthy donors millions of dollars, the analysts said.

Now, Mitt Romney is hardly alone among the wealthy in relying on this device. But he is alone in both running for President in 2012 and claiming he deserves public credit for "giving back to the community" in ways that he refuses to discuss. (Regardless, that is no substitute for paying your fair share to the government of all the people in the United States, especially when your campaign slogan is "Believe in America.") He can't have it both ways. Besides, his wife Ann already said that "you should really look at where Mitt has led his life and where he's been financially" and boasted that "you have to understand is that Mitt is honest, his integrity is, is just golden."
You'll have to take Ann's word for it. Because while Hillary Clinton has released 30 years of her tax returns, neither Ann nor Mitt will let you see their numbers for yourself. As Mrs. Romney put it on the campaign trail in January 2008:

"I understand Mitt's going to release his tax forms this week. I want to remind you where our riches are: our riches are with our families," Ann Romney said. "Our riches, you can value them, in the children we have and in the grandchildren we have. So that's where our values are and that's where our heart is -- and that's where we measure our wealth."

As ThinkProgress noted at the time, Mrs. Romney was none too happy about Mitt having to follow in the footsteps of every modern presidential candidate (including his father) and release his tax returns:

At an event at Freedom Tower in Miami this afternoon, Ann Romney said "unfortunately" the world now knows how "successful in business" Romney has been.

By August 2012, she insisted that "you people" had seen enough:

"Have you seen how we're attacked?" Mrs. Romney said, leaning forward in her chair. "Have you seen what's happened?...We have been very transparent to what's legally required of us," she said. "But the more we release, the more we get attacked, the more we get questioned, the more we get pushed. And so we have done what's legally required, and there's going to be no more tax releases given."

If the Romneys don't want to reveal how much the give back to the federal government, they still wanted to assure Americans that the Romney clan serves the nation by serving itself.
Asked during his first run for the White House why sons why his boys were campaigning in the corn fields of Iowa instead of on the front lines in Iraq, surge supporter Mitt Romney explained in2007 that the Five Brothers had a higher calling--their father. As CBS News recalled:

"My sons are all adults and they've made decisions about their careers and they've chosen not to serve in the military and active duty and I respect their decision in that regard." He added: "One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president."

That attitude also explains why in December 2007 Romney could only imagine the loss of one of his sons on the battlefield. Just one day after getting emotional recounting his 1978 reaction a radio report of his church's belated decision to allow African-American members of the clergy ("I pulled over and literally wept, even to this day it's emotional"), Governor Romney described the hardest part of watching the coffins of U.S. soldiers arriving at Boston's Logan Airport. As CNN reported Romney's story from a New Hampshire town hall meeting:

"The soldiers that I was with stood at attention and saluted," Romney told the crowd. "And I put my hand on my heart, and tears begin to well in your eyes, as you can imagine in a circumstance like that. I have five boys of my own. I imagined what it would be like to lose a son in a situation like that," said the former Massachusetts governor, whose voice quivered noticeably.

Apparently, his sons lack their father's imagination. While Tagg Romney wanted to fight Barack Obama in the fall of 2008, real combat was always another matter for the five brothers. During a 60 Minutes interview in May 2007, the late Mike Wallace asked the assembled Romney sons, "Not one [of you] agreed or thought about serving in the military?" Josh Romney, then the 31-year-old middle son, claimed, "I feel guilty not having done it." His baby brother Ben seemed relieved to admit, "I've seen a lot and read a lot that has made me say, `My goodness, I hope I never have to do that.'" Matt Romney, who four years later would resort to Birther jokes on the campaign trail, made a promise of sorts:
"I hope to be able to make a sacrifice of that caliber at some point in my life."
We're still waiting.
To be sure, the Running Romneys were not the Fighting Sullivans. And as Election Day approached in 2012, Ann Romney explained why to Whoopi Goldberg. Her family's faith does not prevent its adherents from military service. That is a choice, one her husband and sons simply decided against. As she explained:

"He was serving his mission and you know my five sons have also served missions. None served in the military. But I do have one son that feels that he's giving back to his country in a significant way, where he is now a doctor and he is taking care of veterans. We find different ways of serving. My five boys and my husband did serve missions, but did not serve in the military."

As Mitt Romney prepared to accept his party's nomination for President at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Parade asked, "How has tithing [the Mormon practice of giving 10 percent of one's income to the church] shaped your view of how we treat each other?" Mrs. Romney responded:

"I love tithing. When Mitt and I give that check, I actually cry."

"So do I," Mitt joked, "but for a different reason."
But when Ann and Mitt Romney wrote that big check in October 13, 2014 to start the Ann Romney Center at Brigham Women and Children's Hospital in Boston, it was no joke and no accident. For the man who had mocked the 47 percent of voters bought by "gifts" from the Obama administration, it was all part of the Mitt Romney rehabilitation project for 2016. For Romney, who now says he will base his next campaign on fighting poverty, that gift to someone with whom he didn't share a name, a prophet or profits had to been seen and heard. Just not yet as a declaration of candidacy for 2016. As Ann Romney put it that day:

On another matter that has been the subject of much political babbling lately -- a potential third run for president by her husband -- Ann Romney was happy to wave off the possibility.
"Done," she said. "Completely. Not only Mitt and I are done, but the kids are done," she said, referring to her five sons. "Done. Done. Done."

Now, less than three months later, Ann and Mitt Romney are done pretending.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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