Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
Vanity Fair, following up on reporting from earlier this year, visits Mitt''s money in the Cayman Islands in this must-read bombshell report by Nicholas Shaxson. Investigation: Mitt Romney’s Offshore Accounts, Tax Loopholes, and Mysterious I.R.A. | Vanity Fair (excerpts, reordered for clarity):
Come August, Mitt Romney, with an estimated net worth as high as $250 million (he won’t reveal the exact amount), will be one of the richest people ever to be nominated for president. Given his reticence to discuss his wealth, it’s only natural to wonder how he got it, how he invests it, and if he pays all his taxes on it.
Ironically, it was Mitt’s father, George Romney, who released 12 years of tax returns, in November 1967, just ahead of his presidential campaign, thereby setting a precedent that nearly every presidential candidate since has either willingly or unwillingly been subject to. George, then the governor of Michigan, explained why he was releasing so many years’ worth, saying, “One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show.”
But his son declined to release any returns through one unsuccessful race for the U.S. Senate, in 1994, one successful run for Massachusetts governor, in 2002, and an aborted bid for the Republican Party presidential nomination, in 2008. Just before the Iowa caucus last December, Mitt told MSNBC, “I don’t intend to release the tax returns. I don’t,” but finally, on January 24, 2012—after intense goading by fellow Republican candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry—he released his 2010 tax return and an estimate for 2011.
These, plus the mandatory financial disclosures filed with the Office of Government Ethics and released last August, raise many questions. A full 55 pages in his 2010 return are devoted to reporting his transactions with foreign entities.
The media soon noticed Romney’s familiarity with foreign tax havens. A $3 million Swiss bank account appeared in the 2010 returns, then winked out of existence in 2011 after the trustee closed it, as if to remind us of George Romney’s warning that one or two tax returns can provide a misleading picture. Ed Kleinbard, a professor of tax law at the University of Southern California, says the Swiss account “has political but not tax-policy resonance,” since it—like many other Romney investments—constituted a bet against the U.S. dollar, an odd thing for a presidential candidate to do. The Obama campaign provided a helpful world map pointing to the tax havens Bermuda, Luxembourg, and the Cayman Islands, where Romney and his family have assets, each with the tagline “Value: not disclosed in tax returns.”
Romney’s personal tax rate is a particular point of interest. In 2010 and 2011, Mitt and Ann paid $6.2 million in federal tax on $42.5 million in income, for an average tax rate just shy of 15 percent, substantially less than what most middle-income Americans pay. Romney manages this low rate because he takes his payments from Bain Capital as investment income, which is taxed at a maximum 15 percent, instead of the 35 percent he would pay on “ordinary” income, such as salaries and wages. Many tax experts argue that the form of remuneration he receives, known as carried interest, is really just a fee charged by investment managers, so it should instead be taxed at the 35 percent rate. Lee Sheppard, a contributing editor at the trade publication Tax Notes, whose often controversial articles are read widely by tax professionals, is nonplussed that the Obama campaign has been so listless on the issue of carried interest. “Romney is the poster boy, the best argument, for taxing this profit share as ordinary income,” says Sheppard.
In the face of such arguments, Romney’s defense is that he never broke the rules: if there is a problem, it is in the laws, not in his behavior. “I pay all the taxes that are legally required, not a dollar more,” he said.
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The assertion that he broke no laws is widely accepted. But it is worth asking if it is actually true. The answer, in fact, isn’t straightforward. Romney, like the superhero who whirls and backflips unscathed through a web of laser beams while everyone else gets zapped, is certainly a remarkable financial acrobat. But careful analysis of his financial and business affairs also reveals a man who, like some other Wall Street titans, seems comfortable striding into some fuzzy gray zones.
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To give but one example, 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.” It could be that Sankaty is an old vehicle with little importance, but Romney appears to have treated it rather carefully. 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. The director and president of this entity is R. Bradford Malt, the trustee of the blind trust and Romney’s personal lawyer. 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. While the Romneys’ spokespeople insist that the couple has paid all the taxes required by law, investments in tax havens such as Bermuda raise many questions, because they are in “jurisdictions where there is virtually no tax and virtually no compliance,” as one Miami-based offshore lawyer put it.
That’s not the only money Romney has in tax havens. Because of his retirement deal with Bain Capital, his finances are still deeply entangled with the private-equity firm that he founded and spun off from Bain and Co. in 1984. 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. Again, the Romney campaign insists he saves no tax by using them, but there is no way to check this.
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The Romneys’ blind trust was created when Mitt was elected governor of Massachusetts. Curiously, the Romneys appointed Bradford Malt as their trustee. It’s certainly true that under Malt the trusts don’t appear to be as blind as they might be: for instance, in 2010 the Romneys invested $10 million in the start-up of the Solamere Founders Fund, co-founded by their eldest son, Tagg, and Spencer Zwick, Romney’s onetime top campaign fund-raiser; Solamere is now in the Ann Romney blind trust. Malt has said he invested in Solamere without consulting Mitt or Ann and explained he liked Solamere because of its diversified approach and because he knew the founders and had confidence in them.
Likewise, the Romneys were reported to have invested at least $1 million in Elliott Associates, L.P., a hedge fund specializing in “distressed assets.” 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. Romney hides behind a disclaimer that the fund managers “declined to provide such information” about their underlying assets. Many of these funds are set up in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, where a confidentiality law states that you can be jailed for up to four years just for asking about such information.
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Little noticed in the academic discussions of financialization is the role of offshore tax havens, one of the big reasons the financial sector has become so powerful. In 1966, Michael Hudson, a young Chase Manhattan balance-of-payments economist, was in a company elevator when he was handed a memo by a former State Department operative. The memo came from the U.S. government, and Hudson was tasked with figuring out how much foreign money the U.S. might attract. “They were saying, ‘We want to replace Switzerland,’ ” Hudson explains. “All this money will come here if we make this the criminal center of the world. We wanted foreign criminal money, which was patriotic, but not American criminal money.”
[T]he United States has turned itself into a giant tax haven for foreigners, just as the memo suggested. Federal and state tax laws have been deliberately shaped to give foreigners special tax exemptions unavailable to Americans, plus financial secrecy and exemptions from regulatory restraints. “We have criticized offshore tax havens for their secrecy and lack of transparency,” said Senator Carl Levin. “But look what is going on in our own backyard.”
In this grand scenario, tax havens such as the Caymans serve as feeders of foreign savings into Tax Haven U.S.A. from abroad, providing foreign investors with additional ways to skip around tax, disclosure, and regulatory requirements that they might trigger if they invested directly.
The money sucked into Tax Haven U.S.A., often via the “feeder” tax havens, is frequently tax-evading and other criminal foreign money, in the spirit of Hudson’s 1966 memo, and it is predominantly channeled not into productive investment but into real estate and financial business.
One cannot properly understand Wall Street’s size and power without appreciating the central role of offshore tax havens. There is absolutely no evidence that Bain has done anything illegal, but 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 U.S. Customs official once put it.
Bain Capital has said it did everything required by the U.S. government to check that the investors were not associated with unsavory interests. U.S. law doesn’t require Bain to enforce the tax laws of its investors’ home countries, but the presence of Swiss trustees, Bahamas trusts, and Panama corporations would raise red flags with any tax authority.
This is just the off-shore tax haven part of Nicholas Shaxson's report. He also has a detailed look into the Romney's mysteriously funded IRA accounts. The Romney’s I.R.A. accounts also appear to have invested in so-called blocker corporations in the Cayman Islands to avoid the Unrelated Business Income Tax.
Shaxson also has some detaield examples of Bain Capital's "vulture capitalism," looting the pension funds of companies, "then use that to create new, rosier financial projections to borrow several times that amount, and then pay yourself a big special dividend from the borrowed funds, many times the size of the pension savings." In the case of Dade Behring, "Bain [and] its co-investor Goldman Sachs, and top Dade management extracted $365 million in dividends. According to Kosman, "Bain and Goldman—after putting down only $85 million … made out like bandits—a $280 million profit."" Dade Behring filed for bankruptcy in August 2002 and Bain Capital departed.
"[T]his [was not] an isolated incident: Kosman lists five other “formerly healthy” companies—Stage Stores, Ampad, GS Technologies, Details, and KB Toys—Bain helped drive into bankruptcy, while making big profits."
Willard "Mittens" Romney epitomizes the "vulture capitalist" banksters of Wall Street who turned market capitalism into casino capitalism, who invested in unregulated shadow markets and off-shore tax havens, and nearly destroyed the world's financial system and ecomony through their avarice and greed in 2008. Then they came looking to U.S. taxpayers (and now European taxpayers) for a government bailout to "socialize" their losses. Willard "Mittens" Romney is the poster boy for the "masters of the universe" who collapsed our financial system in 2008, and destroyed our economy in its wake.
Why in God's name would any right thinking person want to give this bankster of Wall Street the keys to the White House? It is insanity.