Rubio's Partial 2012 Tax Return Left Question: When Did He Pay?

  • Form indicates estimated payments, penalty shows otherwise
  • Interest and penalty charges exceeded $23,000 since 2008

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks on Feb. 29, 2016, in Conway, Arkansas.

Photographer: MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/Getty Images

Florida Senator Marco Rubio notched a personal best for earnings in 2012 as he and his wife, Jeanette, recorded almost $930,000 in taxable income -- helped by $800,000 that a publisher paid for his best-selling autobiography.

The Rubios set another personal record that year; they incurred more than $11,000 in penalties and interest charges from the Internal Revenue Service, mostly because they paid no taxes on Marco Rubio’s publishing earnings until Oct. 15, 2013, according to documents that Rubio’s presidential campaign provided to Bloomberg News.

Marco Rubio with his wife, Jeanette Rubio

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Voters wouldn’t necessarily be able to know that from the partial 2012 tax return that Rubio has released, one of 15 years’ worth of partial returns his campaign posted online last month. The 2012 return is undated, and it says the couple made $200,000 in “estimated tax payments” that were due that year. Actually, though, the Rubios filed for a six-month extension on their 2012 tax return, and they paid that $200,000 on the last day of the extension in 2013, according to a pair of tax statements that Rubio’s campaign hadn’t released previously.

Seeking Extensions

It’s not unusual for people to get extensions on filing their federal income taxes; millions do it each year. Yet the IRS requires that they pay their annual taxes -- or a reasonable estimate of them -- by the normal deadline in mid-April or face penalties and interest on any overdue amounts. Rubio has paid such penalties in six of the last seven years, totaling more than $23,000, according to his partial tax returns. The penalty and interest for 2012 represent almost half that total.

Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio’s campaign, said in e-mails that the couple has filed for extensions on their taxes, including for 2012. In response to questions, he initially said the couple paid their entire 2012 tax bill -- a balance of $248,171 before penalties and interest -- on Oct. 15, 2013. Later, asked why the return had characterized $200,000 of that amount as “estimated payments,” he said instead that the $200,000 was paid before Oct. 15, 2013, but didn’t specify when. Conant didn’t respond to requests to reconcile his statements.

Rubio, once thought to be the candidate moderate Republicans and the party’s establishment would rally around, has struggled to make inroads in a nominating contest that has been dominated by Donald Trump amid a populist insurgency. 

The Florida senator once again performed poorly in key races in Michigan and Mississippi on Tuesday, finishing fourth in both states behind Trump, Texas senator Ted Cruz and Ohio governor John Kasich and picking up zero delegates. So far, he has won only two Republican primaries, in Minnesota and Puerto Rico, and is limping into the make-or-break contest in his home state of Florida on March 15, where Trump holds a large lead in the most recent polling.

In releasing partial tax returns for 2000 through 2014 last month, Rubio became the first of the leading Republican candidates to give voters at least some tax disclosures. Cruz and Kasich followed, but Trump has refused, saying he’ll wait until the IRS finishes an audit that’s under way. The IRS has said taxpayers are free to make their tax returns public, even when they’re under audit.

Limited Picture

Rubio, Cruz and Kasich didn’t disclose documents that would provide a fuller picture of their finances, including schedules listing itemized deductions and detailing business income or statements providing supplementary information. By contrast, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton released returns for several years that included schedules and statements.

In Rubio’s case, the 2012 return demonstrates how partial disclosure -- without schedules or statements -- might give voters an inaccurate impression. That’s because the return says the Rubios made $200,000 in “2012 estimated tax payments” -- a line on the 1040 income-tax form that indicates the payments were made sometime in 2012. Under IRS rules, people with significant earnings that aren’t subject to wage withholding -- say, business income from publishing a book -- are expected to make estimated tax payments during the year. However, regardless of what the return indicates, the Rubios didn’t pay estimated taxes in 2012 “because he didn’t know how much he’d get paid until the end of the year,” said Conant, the campaign spokesman.

While Conant said subsequently that an estimated payment of $200,000 “was paid before October 15” in 2013, two accountants who examined the Rubios’ tax returns for Bloomberg News concluded otherwise, based on the amount of the penalty and interest the couple paid.

Charles Sarowitz, the founder of Sarowitz Milito & Co., a tax-preparation and accounting firm in Brooklyn, New York, and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, used industry software to conclude that the amount, $11,733, was too high for the $200,000 to have been paid any time before Oct. 15, 2013. Sarowitz’s findings were confirmed independently by William C. Lankford Jr., a CPA with Moore Stephens Tiller LLC in Atlanta.

On the return, after deductions and exemptions, the Rubios reported their tax for the year was $279,827. Then they reported almost $32,000 in federal withholding and the $200,000 in estimated tax payments, the return shows -- bringing the tax bill reflected on their return down to $48,171 before penalties and interest.

Screen Shot

However, a screen shot of unreleased tax documents that Conant provided to Bloomberg News shows that the Rubios’ penalty and interest were actually calculated on Oct. 15, 2013 on the full amount, $248,171. The documents, which are labeled as statements of the interest and late-payment penalty, also record a $200,000 “estimate payment” against that amount on Oct. 15, 2013, leaving a balance of $48,171 before the penalty and interest are added. The document doesn’t say when the balance was paid; Conant said it was on the same day.

While the 2012 penalty and interest charges were the largest, the Rubios’ returns indicate that they paid penalties and interest in six of the last seven years. The 2014 return includes a note that says, “SEE STATEMENT FOR INTEREST AND PENALTIES NOT INCLUDED,” but the statement wasn’t released. Conant said in an e-mail that the couple paid $522 that year.

In general, the Rubios’ returns show simply that “he’s not paying on time,” Sarowitz said.

The IRS brings three types of penalties for late tax payments or late returns: An “estimated tax penalty” applies when taxpayers don’t make timely payments during the tax year through withholding or quarterly pre-payments. A “failure to pay” penalty is assessed at 0.5 percent for each month that a tax bill is overdue, plus interest. A “failure to file” penalty, levied when taxpayers miss the mid-April deadline and fail to seek extensions, is 5 percent each month, or 10 times the “failure to pay” penalty. It’s capped at 25 percent, plus interest.

The Rubios’ returns indicate they’ve incurred all three types of penalties over the past decade, including one for not filing by April 15. Their return for 2008 includes a note that says: “LATE FILING PENALTY NOT INCLUDED: $170.” That amount suggests the return was no more than a month late. In all, the Rubios’ penalties and interest amounted to $380 in 2008, a year in which they reported more than $399,000 in adjusted gross income and owed federal taxes of more than $3,700 when they filed.

Personal Finances

For Rubio, who has been dogged by questions about his personal finances, the tax penalties may reinforce a narrative his chief nemesis, Trump, has sought to exploit. The billionaire real estate mogul this week began airing television ads saying, among other things, that Rubio used a credit card owned by the Republican Party of Florida for personal expenses, such as to “pave his driveway.” Rubio has said he mistakenly used the card on some occasions for personal items; he eventually paid for those expenses himself.

News accounts have shown that Rubio accidentally mingled personal funds and campaign funds as a Florida state lawmaker; in 2010, a bank sought to foreclose on a home he purchased in Tallahassee with another state lawmaker after the pair stopped making payments; and in 2014, he withdrew $68,000 from a retirement fund. Such cash-outs before the age of 59 1/2 incur heavy tax penalties. (He made a similar early withdrawal in 2001, for about $3,800, according to that year’s return.)

Asked about those incidents during a Republican debate last October, Rubio called them “discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents.” But Politifact Florida, a fact-checking website produced by Florida newspapers, determined that “all of these events happened and have been well-documented.”

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