2012 GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has been banking on his time running the private equity firm Bain Capital to be a major selling point for his campaign. “I spent my career in the private sector. I think that’s what the country needs right now,” Romney says.
Romney has had to contend with the fact that Bain made a lot of its money buying up companies, then laying off workers and reneging on benefits to gut those companies, burying them with debt as Bain walked away with millions. In fact, one of his former business partners has explicitly said, “I never thought of what I did for a living as job creation.” And as it turns out, even after Romney left the firm, he was profiting from Bain’s activities due to a lucrative retirement deal:
In what would be the final deal of his private equity career, he negotiated a retirement agreement with his former partners that has paid him a share of Bain’s profits ever since, bringing the Romney family millions of dollars in income each year and bolstering the fortune that has helped finance Mr. Romney’s political aspirations.
The arrangement allowed Mr. Romney to pursue his career in public life while enjoying much of the financial upside of being a Bain partner as the company grew into a global investing behemoth.
Since Romney left, Bain has made its money gutting companies like KB Toys and Clearchannel, laying off thousands of workers and leaving the companies under heavy debt loads, while Romney has reaped the benefit. Adding insult to injury, the money Romney has been collecting from Bain is likely not taxed as normal income but as “carried interest,” meaning it is subject to the capital gains tax rate of 15 percent rather than the top income tax rate of 35 percent:
[S]ince Mr. Romney’s payouts from Bain have come partly from the firm’s share of profits on its customers’ investments, that income probably qualifies for the 15 percent tax rate reserved for capital gains, rather than the 35 percent that wealthy taxpayers pay on ordinary income. The Internal Revenue Service allows investment managers to pay the lower rate on the share of profits, known in the industry as “carried interest,” that they receive for running funds for investors.
Because Romney’s income is almost exclusively derived from what are qualified as investments (he recently said he has no income that qualifies for the personal income tax), he is able to drive his tax rate to absurdly low levels for someone making as much as he does. Citizens for Tax Justice estimated that Romney pays about a 14 percent tax rate, below the level at which many middle-class families are paying. And he’s paying that low rate on money made via dismantling companies and eliminating jobs.