Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) caused a stir during last week’s Republican presidential primary debate when he released his 2010 tax return and revealed that he had paid a 31.5 percent tax rate on $3.14 million in income. The release came amid widespread calls for Gingrich’s fellow candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), to release his own tax returns, after Romney admitted his tax rate was about 15 percent.
But further scrutiny of Gingrich’s own returns from tax experts has revealed that his tax rate should have been even higher. That’s because, according to Forbes, Gingrich dodged “tens of thousands of dollars in Medicare payroll taxes” by classifying most of his income from two companies he owns as profits and dividends, therefore avoiding the payroll tax — a technique the IRS has “consistently and successfully attacked” in the past. Newt and Callista Gingrich classified only $444,327 of their income from Gingrich Holdings and Gingrich Productions as ordinary income. Meanwhile, the other $2.4 million earned was classified as profits or dividends, meaning it was not subject to payroll taxes.
According to tax experts interviewed by Forbes, that means Gingrich is dodging taxes he likely should be paying:
“It appears that he is not paying his fair share of Medicare tax,’’ Robert E. McKenzie, a partner in the Chicago law firm of Arnstein & Lehr LLP concluded, in an email to Forbes, after reviewing Gingrich’s 2010 tax return. McKenzie, a past chairman of the Employment Tax Committee of the American Bar Association Tax Section and a member of the IRS’ Advisory Council, added: “There are a multitude of cases where the IRS has successfully challenged the improper tax strategy of this candidate and his accountants. Service businesses are only allowed to distribute a fair return on investment from an S corp. as profits exempt from Medicare taxes. The remainder of profits must be paid as salary subject to a 2.9% Medicare tax levy.”
As Forbes notes, the IRS has specific rules on how payments from a small business like Gingrich Holdings should be treated for tax purposes, and the amount Gingrich says he invested in his companies — between $500,000 and $1 million — is likely “far too little” to “justify booking $2.4 million as profit.” The ploy, however, is used widely. According to the Government Accountability Office, S corps. like Gingrich Holdings underpaid wages by $24 billion in 2003 and 2004, allowing owners to avoid payroll taxes.
Gingrich’s dodge of Medicare taxes, though, pales in comparison to the tax break he’d give himself should he get to the White House. His tax reform plan calls for a flat 15 percent tax rate, slashing his effective rate to 14.6 percent and giving himself a $540,000 tax break in the process.