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Romney releases 2011 taxes, but critics want more
Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney boards his campaign plane in Las Vegas, Nevada September 21, 2012.   (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney boards his campaign plane in Las Vegas, Nevada September 21, 2012. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
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WOODBRIDGE, Virginia: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney released his long-promised 2011 tax return, capping a rough week dominated by a leaked, secretly recorded video of his remarks on the poor that threatened to draw an even sharper contrast between the multimillionaire and the average U.S. voter.

Friday's tax release gave no hint that Romney would give in to pressure to release many more years of tax forms that would provide insights into his sprawling finances.

Romney, one of the wealthiest candidates ever to seek the presidency, earned almost $13.7 million last year and paid more than $1.9 million in taxes - an effective tax rate of 14.1 percent. By comparison, President Barack Obama's tax return shows he earned nearly $790,000 last year and paid an effective tax rate of almost 21 percent.

In the U.S., wages are taxed at a higher rate than investments, which make up the bulk of Romney's income. The tax rate Romney paid last year is lower than that of millions of middle-income Americans, but it's more than he had to pay, since he limited tax deductions on the more than $4 million he and his wife gave to charity.

Romney spent the week trying to get past the furor over his remarks in the leaked video, which shows him telling wealthy donors that nearly half of the U.S. doesn't pay income taxes, supports Obama and is dependent on government. "My job is not to worry about those people," Romney said in the video, released this week on the website of Mother Jones magazine.

That led to even more criticism from some fellow Republicans over the workings of the Romney campaign. The race for the election remains tight, but Obama holds a slight lead in recent polls and has pulled ahead in cash on hand for the crucial final campaign push.

Romney campaign officials said he and his wife, Ann, filed the tax return Friday with the Internal Revenue Service, after receiving an extension. Most Americans faced a tax filing deadline of April 17 this year.

Democrats have long tried to make an issue of what Romney is willing to divulge about his tax payments and investments, including overseas ones. Romney reported $3.5 million in income last year "from sources outside the United States," citing "various countries." The tax forms included filings on holdings in Switzerland, Ireland, Germany and the Cayman Islands.

The Obama campaign again accused Romney of profiting from millions invested overseas and "loopholes and tax shelters only available to those at the top."

Critics, including Obama, have urged Romney to follow his father's model. When George Romney ran for president in 1968, he set a precedent by releasing information on 12 years of tax returns.

Mitt Romney is refusing. He has said he is following the example of Republican Sen. John McCain, who released just two years' worth of returns in his race against Obama in 2008.

Several tax law experts said that Romney's newly released tax return would not be much help in uncovering the most persistent mysteries of his finances - whether he used aggressive tax-deferral strategies, the specifics and tax advantages of his numerous offshore investments, the source of his massive retirement account and the details behind his now-closed $3 million Swiss bank account.

The analysts said those details could emerge only if Romney provided far more of his tax returns - including files dating back to his years at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he cofounded and then left in 2001.

"The issue has never been Romney's 2011 tax return - in fact, it is a distraction to the real issues," said Edward D. Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California and former chief of staff of Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation. "All the important compliance and policy questions relating to Romney's personal tax matters relate to the past."

Joseph Bankman, a Stanford University law school professor and expert on tax law, said Friday, "It's the Bain years we'd really need to know to have a full assessment of his tax strategies."

Romney's supporters say his wealth reflects his entrepreneurial prowess, which he would use to boost the economy if elected president. They say he has paid his fair share of taxes.

They also point out the millions of dollars he has given to charity. On Friday, Brad Malt, the trustee of the couple's blind trust, said Romney and his wife last year claimed a deduction for $2.25 million of their $4.021 million in charitable contributions. In the previous year, a large percentage of those contributions went to the Mormon Church.

Romney's wealth has been estimated as high as $250 million, and much of it is held in a blind trust. Campaign aides have stressed that Romney makes no decisions on how his money is invested.

As the struggling economy remains the top issue for voters, Romney has seized on cutting taxes as a possible solution. He proposes dropping all income tax rates by 20 percent, reducing the top tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, but he hasn't said how he will do it.

Romney's campaign also released a letter from his doctor saying the 65-year-old is healthy and physically up to the demands of the presidency.

Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, and his wife Janna, whose returns were also released Friday by the Romney campaign, paid $64,764 in taxes on $323,416 of adjusted gross income in 2011, for an effective rate of 20 percent.

Just over half of their income came from Ryan's congressional salary. Other income flowed from rental real estate and other investments, including a trust inherited by Janna Ryan. They donated $12,991 to charity, including to the Boy Scouts of America

The Romney tax release overshadowed Friday's other events as both campaigns reached out to older voters.

Americans 50 and over, including the large and vocal Baby Boomer generation, are especially important because they register in greater numbers and are almost twice as likely to cast their ballot as younger voters. An Associated Press-GfK poll released this week found Romney was favored by seniors likely to vote, 52 percent to 41 percent for Obama.

Seniors also make up about 22 percent of those not paying income taxes, as they get tax breaks that offset their income.

Both campaigns made pitches at the national convention of the AARP, the largest interest group for seniors.

Ryan brought his mother to the event but drew boos from the audience when he said Romney would repeal Obama's widespread but contentious health care overhaul.

Polling shows Obama with a slight lead nationally, as well as in many of the eight or so battleground states that will decide the election. The president is not elected by popular national vote but in state-by-state contests.

A series of presidential debates beginning Oct. 3 are the next scheduled chance to shake up the race.

 
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