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Mitt Romney Taxes And Speaking Fees Comments Draw Fire

Ryan Faughnder |
January 18, 2012 | 10:28 a.m. PST

Executive Editor

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is wealthy. That’s no secret, and it doesn’t seem to have been a liability so far, but the former Bain Capital chief executive and former Massachusetts Gov. is now taking fire for comments he made about his income from speaking fees. 

Mitt Romney in 2010 (Creative Commons)
Mitt Romney in 2010 (Creative Commons)

According to his public financial disclosure form, he earned $374,327 for speaking engagements between Feb 2010 and Feb 2011, well more than what the typical American household brings in per year, total. Romney dismissed the sum Tuesday as “not very much.” It seemed to echo the sentiment of the infamous $10,000 bet he made with fellow candidate Rick Perry at a recent debate. 

Romney also raised eyebrows when he estimated that he pays about 15 percent of his income in taxes, meaning he  likely makes most of his money from capital gains. Depending on how much they earn, Americans whose income is made up of wages and salaries pay an effective tax rate of up to 35 percent.

Newt Gingrich has quipped to reporters that he would like to see a 15 percent “flat tax” named for Romney. 

Rick Santorum, who appears to be making a last-ditch effort to save his candidacy by making a strong showing in South Carolina, focused on the speaking fees comments. “The thing that is a difference is to make a statement that I made a couple of extra bucks giving speeches, when that couple extra bucks is over $300,000,” Santorum said on Fox News

As the Washington Post points out, capital gains income has been an enormous contributor to the growing wealth gap in this country, according to the Congressional Research Service. 

From the CRS report:

Capital gains and dividends were a larger share of total income in 2006 than in 1996 (especially for high-income taxpayers) and were more unequally distributed in 2006 than in 1996. Changes in capital gains and dividends were the largest contributor to the increase in the overall income inequality. Taxes were less progressive in 2006 than in 1996, and consequently, tax policy also contributed to the increase in income inequality between 1996 and 2006. But overall income inequality would likely have increased even in the absence of tax policy changes.

Conventional wisdom holds that these gaffes paint a picture of Romney as an out-of-touch elite, but they don’t appear to have hurt him in the polls. Romney is polling at 28 percent nationally, according to the latest CBS/NY Times poll, well ahead of the closest contender, Newt Gingrich, who’s polling at 21 percent.

Romney is expected to win the South Carolina primary easily, further solidifying his nomination as the Republican candidate to go up against Pres. Barack Obama in November. 

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