Posted by Jay Livingston
Mitt Romney still refuses to make his tax returns public. Instead, he now says that for the last ten years he’s never paid less than 13%. The response from the Obama campaign: Prove it.
The Romneyites are in high dudgeon about this request. To ask to see the actual returns rather than accept Mitt’s word, why, it’s so uncouth, so ill-mannered. Such curiosity is ungentlemanly; it borders on the morbid.
W.C. Fields fans will no doubt remember the scene in “My Little Chickadee,” set in the old West, where Fields (Cuthbert J. Twillie) approaches a stranger in a saloon. He offers to play a game: cut the cards, high card wins. They agree to play for $100. The stranger accepts and cuts a king.
(For full effect, this should be seen, not transcribed, but alas, I cannot find an embeddable clip.. You can watch the scene here. It’s less than 2 minutes.)
There are good reasons to have some morbid curiosity about those tax returns. Thirteen percent sounds reasonable, though it’s far less than what you pay if you earn a salary of $75,000. But thirteen percent of what? As Jonathan Zasloff says,
If Romney’s income (mostly from capital gains) was, say, $10 million a year, but $9 million of it is in a tax shelter in the Cayman Islands, Romney could pay $130,000 on the $1 million and call it $13%. But in fact, he would be paying on his real income only 1.3%.
And that’s just a simple version. Given the complexities of the tax code, Romney could have done much more creative accounting. Another law professor, Victor Fliescher, has a slightly more complicated scenario (here). Fleischer’s specialty is tax law, especially carried interest, so he knows that this is not a gentleman’s game. To Romney’s 13% claim, he says in a most ungentlemanly fashion, “I call bullshit.”