Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney donated $7 million to charity in the past two years, more than the $6.2 million the candidate and his wife paid in federal taxes in that period, documents the campaign released show.
Romney and his wife, Ann, who jointly file taxes, gave $1.5 million cash in 2010 and $2.6 million cash in 2011 to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the tax documents show. A former Massachusetts governor whose campaign estimates his fortune at between $190 million and $250 million as co-founder of Boston private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC, Romney is a devout Mormon with deep family ties to the church.
The Romneys donated about 16.4 percent of their adjusted gross income of $42.5 million in the two-year period, according to their 2010 tax returns and an estimate for 2011 taxes. The 2010 return shows $3 million in charitable contributions, and the 2011 estimate shows $4 million.
At first glance, the dollar amount of the Romneys’ charitable giving is “shocking,” Russell James, director of a graduate program in charitable financial planning at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, said in a telephone interview today. “But it’s a different story when you compare it to total wealth. It’s not a shocking amount when you have a quarter- billion dollars in wealth.”
Gifts of Stock
In addition to their church donations, the Romneys had deductions for more than $2 million in donations that are listed as noncash charitable contributions. That includes tens of thousands of shares of stock in Domino’s Pizza Inc, Senasata Technologies, Dunkin Donuts and Warner Chilcott that went to his family’s Tyler Foundation, based in Boston. Romney’s Bain Capital acquired those companies, records show.
It isn’t unusual for high earners like the Romneys to funnel money into charitable foundations that they control, said Lloyd Mayer, an associate dean at the University of Notre Dame Law School.
“If you’re wealthy, you set up your own private foundation,” Mayer said. “You get a deduction now, but you don’t have to give it all away right away. You can do it in a much more leisurely way.”
From a tax perspective, it makes sense for the Romneys to use shares of stock to make charitable donations, Mayer said. If someone donates shares that have increased in value, they can deduct the contribution while avoiding the 15 percent capital gains tax they would have to pay otherwise.
“It’s a very common strategy,” Mayer said.
Still, the large amount of cash donations reflects that Romney wasn’t engaged in an aggressive strategy to use charitable contributions to lower his taxes, said Miranda Fleischer, an associate professor of taxation at the University of Colorado Law School.
“In 2011, about 75 percent of what he gave was in cash and that’s not necessarily the most tax-advantageous method,” she said.
The Tyler Foundation made $647,500 in donations during 2010, including $75,000 to the Center for the Treatment of Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis and $10,000 to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. It also donated $145,000 to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, $100,000 to the George W. Bush presidential library and $10,000 to the Harvard Business School, of which Romney is an alumnus.
The donations to the church could help Romney among some evangelical voters who have been reluctant to support his presidential bid, said Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
‘Reason to Pause’
“His tax returns give us reason to pause and say, ‘Hey, have we been fair to this guy?’” said Mouw, who isn’t a Mormon and hasn’t endorsed a Republican presidential candidate. Evangelicals “should be impressed with the marvelous percentage that goes to his church and what his church is doing for the larger human community.”
Americans at Romney’s income level -- upwards of $10 million annually -- donated an average of 6.5 percent of their adjusted gross income to charity, according to IRS data from 2009, the most recent available. The average in charitable giving for all tax filers that year was 3.2 percent of adjusted gross income, the data show.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Romney rival in the Republican race who made public his 2010 tax returns on Jan. 19, gave about 2.6 percent of his $3.1 million adjusted gross income to charity in that year. He paid an effective federal tax rate of 31.7 percent. Romney’s effective federal tax rate in 2010 was 13.9 percent.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at Jschneider50@bloomberg.net