Romney Facing Scrutiny Over Personal Tax Rate, Releasing Returns

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  January 18, 2012 at 8:04 AM EST

Mitt Romney; photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Mitt Romney speaks at a press conference after a campaign rally Tuesday in Florence, S.C. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

For Mitt Romney, more money might really mean more problems.

The former Massachusetts governor and investment firm executive admitted for the first time Tuesday that he pays an effective income tax rate of about 15 percent, raising questions about the front-runner’s wealth and providing his Republican rivals and Democrats fresh ammunition.

“What’s the effective rate I’ve been paying? It’s probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything,” Romney said Tuesday at a news conference in Florence, S.C. “My last 10 years, I’ve — my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past rather than ordinary income or rather than earned annual income.”

The top tax rate on ordinary income is 35 percent. Romney said that he received “a little bit of income” from his book, “No Apology,” but he “gave that all away.”

“And then I get speakers’ fees from time to time, but not very much,” Romney added.

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Lori Montgomery looked at that characterization by Romney and found:

Romney collected more than $370,000 for such appearances, averaging more than $40,000 per speech from February 2010 to February 2011, according to a mandatory financial disclosure form filed last summer. Romney — a retired chief executive at the private equity firm Bain Capital — assessed his net worth as $190 million to $250 million.

Romney has highlighted his private sector success as one reason why he’s the candidate best equipped to turn around the struggling economy and thus would pose the toughest matchup for President Obama. But the focus on his personal wealth risks turning that experience into an electoral liability.

And there were almost immediate signs of that possibility. The Democratic National Committee released a web video Wednesday splicing together various news reports from Tuesday, framing it as “a very taxing day for Mitt Romney.”

And the Democratic group American Bridge 21st Century posted Romney’s comments with some of its own editorializing.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich dinged Romney on the tax issue during a stop Tuesday in Columbia, S.C. “I’m thrilled at the idea that Mitt, I assume this afternoon will endorse my flat tax proposal and have every American pay it the way he paid,” Gingrich said, reports Elicia Dover of ABC News.

“I think we ought to rename our flat tax, we have a 15 percent flat tax, so this would be the ‘Mitt Romney flat tax,’ all Americans would pay the rate Mitt Romney paid, I think it’s terrific.”

After saying at Monday night’s debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., that he would “probably” release his tax returns in April, Romney caved to pressure from his GOP competitors and Democrats and pledged Tuesday that he would do so.

But for Gingrich, who has said he will make his returns public this week, Romney’s April timeline was not fast enough.

“What is he saying to the people of South Carolina? ‘You’re not important enough for me to release my income tax, nor the people of Florida?’” Gingrich told reporters at a stop in Florence. “Either there is nothing there, so why isn’t he releasing it, or there is something there, so why is he hiding it?”

It’s one thing for a challenger to be asking that question — but it could be much more problematic for Romney if voters in South Carolina and beyond start to wonder the same thing.

OBAMA’S BIGGER VENUE

President Obama’s team is looking toward the general as well, with members of the press touring the site of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Like he did in 2008, the president is looking to include more people — potential voters, of course — in his acceptance speech.

On Tuesday, the DNC announced plans to pack in Bank of America Stadium in a switch in venues for the final night of the September convention. The stadium can hold more than 70,000 people.

The party — er, program — will be trimmed from four days to three, starting on Sept. 4 instead of Sept. 3. That way Democrats can “make room for a day to organize and celebrate the Carolinas, Virginia and the South,” an official told supporters in an email announcing the changes.

(Hotline’s Reid Wilson noted the change means the Carolina Panthers will alter their schedule and play their first game of the year on the road.)

It’s not clear how much of a celebration Mr. Obama’s perfunctory nominating convention will be.

The Washington Post’s Jon Cohen and Dan Balz, meanwhile, detail a new national poll of voter sentiment on domestic and economic issues, writing that the results “paint a portrait of an incumbent facing a difficult re-election campaign.”

The Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 9 percent of Americans see a strong economic recovery, a flat figure that’s coupled with twice as many saying they are worse off financially since Mr. Obama became president than say their situations have improved.

Slightly more than half the respondents — 52 percent — say President Obama has accomplished “not much” or “little or nothing” in office, while 47 percent offer a positive assessment of his record. Those findings are identical to public attitudes two years ago.

STRUGGLING TO STAY RELEVANT

More than two-thirds of South Carolina’s evangelical voters don’t want Romney as the nominee, The State writes on its front page in a story pegged to a new poll from Monmouth University. But the story notes that those voters are split between Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Mike Huckabee, who placed second in South Carolina in 2008, told the newspaper he also sees a fractured group of faith voters. “Here’s the problem: Who gets to tell the other two that they should drop out?” the former Arkansas governor said. “And who can predict which of the candidates might catch fire?”

Gingrich put a finer point on it: “A vote for Santorum or Perry is a vote for Romney to be the nominee,” he said Tuesday. See our wrap of the day’s news here.

Gingrich is putting a new television ad on the air showcasing his debate “moment,” a sharp exchange with moderator Juan Williams.

But at least one event Tuesday seemed to perform under expectations for Team Gingrich. A camera crew captured a Gingrich organizer telling a crowd in West Columbia that they would be removing rows of chairs to make the room look full for the television viewing audience.

“I want it full … We’re going to pull some chairs so that when we go on TV we look packed. So, this is called staging,” the supporter said.

Watch:

Here’s the link to it on YouTube.

Santorum called Gingrich’s stance about the split electorate “hubris.”

Politico’s James Hohmann interviewed more than 30 voters at Santorum events over five days. “They love his conservative record, they love him on the stump — but they’re just worried he won’t be able to beat the president. And given how desperate Republican voters are to see that happen, that’s sending even Santorum’s fans into Romney’s arms,” he writes in Morning Score.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who ditched the campaign trail so he could return to Washington and vote against increasing the nation’s debt ceiling, was mobbed by an enthusiastic crowd in Rock Hill, S.C., on Tuesday. NewsHour reporter-producer Quinn Bowman (@quinnbowman) was there and captured some video.

Paul outlined his policy platform and told his devotees, “It must be a lot more exciting to be involved in a campaign that really believes in something,” Bowman reports. Paul had a hard time leaving when his fans surrounded his car, so he signed autographs for 10 minutes. Watch:


SUPER PAC SPENDING DOUBLES IN LAST 17 DAYS

The NewsHour highlighted Super PAC spending in a segment Tuesday that outlined just how much money is flowing to South Carolina before Saturday’s primary. The Center for Public Integrity crunched the numbers and calculated the pro-Gingrich groups that spent $782,000 through Jan. 1 have now spent $4.3 million through Tuesday. Restore our Future, the Romney super PAC, spent $4.2 million though the end of 2011 and then another $4.1 million in the first 17 days of the year.

Spending from Santorum’s super PAC jumped from $537,000 to $1.5 million, and the Paul super PAC spent $448,000 through Jan. 1 and now has spent nearly $3 million. Of note, the pro-Perry super PAC spent $3.7 million through the end of the year, and has only added $250,000 to that total over the last 17 days.

Watch the segment here.

In a related story, Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Ken Vogel delve into the difficulties the pro-Obama Super PAC, Priorities USA, has had getting cooperation from Chicago. From the story:

And Obama’s campaign has found other ways to reach out to potential super PAC contributors, including dispatching Vice President Joe Biden to speak to an invitation-only meeting of major donors in November, hours after attendees heard pitches from representatives of Priorities USA Action and its affiliate Priorities USA, as well as other Democratic outside groups.

2012 LINE ITEMS

Speaking of super PACs, Politico’s Maggie Haberman has a look at a new ad from the pro-Gingrich group Winning Our Future. The animated spot sets up a mock general election debate between Romney and President Obama, with the president listing issues of agreement between himself and the former Massachusetts governor.

The nation will know the official count from the Iowa caucuses — and whether Romney really did win them by eight votes — by the end of the week, the Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs reports.

She writes that the state’s 99 counties have until close of business Wednesday to get their official paperwork with their caucus results to the Republican Party of Iowa.

The Associated Press’ longtime Virginia political reporter Bob Lewis writes that a divisive “loyalty oath” requiring voters in March’s GOP presidential primary to support the eventual nominee is being removed from the ballot in an expedited, last-minute request from the state Republican Party.

Team Obama is boasting about hiring new staff and opening more offices in New Hampshire just as the GOP campaigns close up shop.

Sarah Palin said on Fox News that if she were a South Carolinian, “I would vote for Newt,” the New York Times reported.

TWEET OF THE MORNING

@thehill: Even Congress’s gift shops losing money (by @elwasson) http://thehill.com/homenews/house/204735-even-congresss-gift-shops-losing-money

OUTSIDE THE LINES

Occupy protesters descended on Congress Tuesday. The NewsHour was there and looked at the movement as part of a discussion on executive compensation.

Patrick Marley, Jason Stein and Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report, “Democrats and organizers filed petitions Tuesday afternoon with more than a million signatures as they sought to force a recall election against Gov. Scott Walker — a massive number that seems to cement a historic recall election against him for later this year.”

Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., announced Tuesday he would not seek a seventh term, reports Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz.

For the second time in a month, the cannibalistic conservative group Club for Growth has released a television ad attacking Michigan Rep. Fred Upton for his “liberal” voting record. Upton, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has a challenge in the Republican primary. The ad started airing just as former State Rep. Jack Hoogendyk launched his primary bid from a car lot in Kalamazoo.

Roll Call’s Jonathan Strong and Amanda Becker report on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s investigation into a controversial VIP mortgage program.

Becker also reports that private groups spent almost $6 million to send members of Congress and staff on more than 1,500 trips — often to far-flung locations such as Austria, Egypt, Israel and Turkey.

And the paper’s Meredith Shiner and Kate Tummarello noted the security risks of members of Congress tweeting while on trips known as CODELs.

Jeffrey Brown sat down with Angelina Jolie to discuss her new film on Bosnia, “In the Land of Blood and Honey.”

Mr. Obama recorded a spoof video in honor of actress Betty White’s 90th birthday. Warning: The “Golden Girls” theme will be in your head all day if you watch it.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Newt Gingrich holds three South Carolina town halls: in Winnsboro at 9 a.m., Warrenville at 1 p.m. and Easley at 4:30 p.m. He also attends a Personhood USA forum in Greenville at 7 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum holds three South Carolina town halls: in Spartanburg at 10:45 a.m., Laurens at 12:45 p.m. and back in Spartanburg at 5 p.m. He stops by the Personhood USA forum in Greenville at 8 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney holds three South Carolina rallies: — in Spartanburg at 11:10 a.m., Rock Hill at 3:15 p.m. and Irmo at 7:15 p.m.

  • Rick Perry holds a pair of campaign events in Greer, S.C., at 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. He also attends the Personhood USA forum in Greenville at 7 p.m.

  • Ron Paul has put his South Carolina campaign schedule on hold to travel to Washington for a vote on increasing the debt ceiling.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @quinnbowman.

NewsHour Politics Desk Assistant Alex Bruns contributed to this report.