Super-Rich Gubernatorial Candidate Used Controversial Cayman Tax Gimmick To Maximize His Fortune

A beach on Grand Cayman, one of several popular tax havens CREDIT: AP
A beach on Grand Cayman, one of several popular tax havens CREDIT: AP

Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner (R) made part of his fortune from investments in a Caribbean tax haven, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. But because Rauner won’t release details on his tax filings it is impossible to tell just how much of his wealth comes from those offshore accounts.

The newspaper found five Cayman Islands-based investment funds among the dozens of income sources Rauner listed on state disclosure forms last year. Three of the five are funds set up by the private equity firm Rauner founded. Two others, including one that manages money for a large public pension fund in Illinois, are run by separate firms.

While Rauner’s income from each fund could be as low as $5,000 — the threshold for disclosure on the state forms — a more realistic guess would be in the millions of dollars. As a self-described member of the richest 0.01 percent of Americans, Rauner is unlikely to make chump change investments. Most funds of the sort the Sun-Times identified require minimum investments of $500,000 or $1 million dollars, a tax expert told the newspaper.

Rauner has released summary tax forms but has declined to disclose other paperwork that would allow tax experts to figure out how much of his wealth comes from the offshore holdings. A Rauner spokesman told the Sun-Times that the offshore locations of the investment funds do not affect the Rauners’ tax rates since they pay state and federal taxes on that income. But the success of the funds themselves, and their ability to pay dividends to both individual investors like the Rauners and institutional ones like pension funds, is enhanced by having roots in a tax haven.

The exotic Caymans linkage will draw further scrutiny to Rauner’s wealth and tax maneuvering. Like many very rich people around the world, the Rauners are able to manipulate the tax code in ways that reduce their tax rate without violating the law. Despite pulling in $108 million in taxable income from 2010 to 2012 — more than enough to qualify for the top federal income tax bracket with rates of 35 percent or more — Rauner and his wife paid an effective tax rate below 20 percent. That is mostly due to how the tax code treats investment income differently from wage income. Capital gains are taxed at far lower rates than salaries.

Rauner has also benefited from “an accounting maneuver that blurs the lines” between normal income and lower-tax investment income, the Chicago Tribune reported in July. The IRS is scrutinizing the “fee waivers” that private equity companies use to shift their partners’ income from higher-tax categories to lower-tax ones.

Rauner’s campaign has received more than $4 million in funding from billionaire financial sector colleagues. He has injected nearly $10 million of his own money into his race against Gov. Pat Quinn (D-IL). Quinn’s supporters are hoping to revive the same sorts of attacks on private equity and out-of-touch multimillionaires that helped sink Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. But Rauner, who made national news over the winter when he called for lowering the state’s minimum wage, has enjoyed a steady lead over Quinn in summer polling.