Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Romney's 2011 Tax Return Gives More Fodder To Critics Who Already Had Surplus

Mitt Romney waves to supporters as he arrives at a rally Friday in Las Vegas.
Julie Jacobson
Mitt Romney waves to supporters as he arrives at a rally Friday in Las Vegas.

Mitt Romney's Friday release of his 2011 tax return puts that issue back in the headlines just when it had slipped largely off many people's radar screens.

Of course, it wasn't exactly as though the other headlines the Republican presidential nominee has made of late were all that helpful to his presidential campaign. At this point, maybe his campaign has taken so many hits, the release of information showing he and his wife, Ann, paid a 14.1 percent effective rate in 2011 on $13.7 million of income and that their rate averaged 20.2 percent over a 20-year period can't inflict much more harm.

There was something in Romney's tax data on which both his allies and opponents could fixate. For instance, the Romneys donated more than $4 million to charity in 2011 but claimed only $2.25 million in donations.

That level of charity was lauded by supporters like Rep. Catherine McMorris Rogers, a member of the House leadership who, in a statement on the campaign's website, said Romney's donations "are to be admired."

But drawing the attention of some critics was the explanation for why Romney didn't claim all the charitable deductions he was entitled to under Internal Revenue Service rules.

Brad Malt, a lawyer who oversees Romney's trust, said Romney's effective tax rate would have come in lower if the former Massachusetts governor had claimed the entirety of his donations.

That would have been a problem because it would have conflicted with a statement Romney made earlier during the campaign that his effective tax rate had been at least 13 percent in each of the past 10 years.

So Romney paid more taxes than he had to. But that conflicted with another statement from earlier this year, when he said during a Republican primary debate: "I pay all the taxes legally required and not a dollar more."

This handout image provided by the Romney campaign shows the front page of Mitt Romney's 2011 tax return.
/ AP
This handout image provided by the Romney campaign shows the front page of Mitt Romney's 2011 tax return.

At another point, he said during an ABC News interview that if he had paid more taxes than he owed, that would disqualify him from the presidency. His exact words: "I don't pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don't think I'd be qualified to become president."

Despite that, he paid more taxes than he owed.

None of this bought him any respite from perhaps his biggest nemesis on his personal taxes — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid's office issued a statement:

"The information released today reveals that Mitt Romney manipulated one of the only two years of tax returns he's seen fit to show the American people — and then only to 'conform' with his public statements. That raises the question: what else in those returns has Romney manipulated? ...

"It's also galling to see the creative accounting Mitt Romney applied to his own tax returns only days after learning of his insulting comments that seniors, soldiers and hard-working parents don't pay enough taxes."

President Obama's campaign piled on as well:

"Today's release of Mitt Romney's 2011 tax returns confirms what we already knew — that people like Mitt Romney pay a lower tax rate than many middle class families because of a set of complex loopholes and tax shelters only available to those at the top. Yet, Mitt Romney still wants to give multi-millionaires an additional $250,000 tax cut at the expense of middle class taxpayers who will see their taxes go up."

It wasn't just Democrats criticizing Romney on Friday after the release of his tax information. Alex Castellanos, a GOP strategist, was quoted by's Maggie Haberman thusly:

" 'At first I thought this was an April Fool's Joke,' said Castellanos, who tweeted something to that effect at me earlier. 'But it isn't April. I can't imagine that David Axelrod will now say, I'm glad Mitt put this issue behind him. This will drag Mitt's taxes back into the debate. And there's not many days left. I just can't imagine why they would do this. There are 40 days left and you have now made more of them about Mitt's taxes ... you don't serve a life sentence and then confess afterward. They've taken their beating on this (already). ... I just don't understand how a (being) "little pregnant" strategy (works).' "

While some questioned the timing of the Romney tax dump, it wasn't as though the Republican presidential nominee had much more time. Having filed with the IRS for an extension earlier this year, the Oct. 15 deadline was approaching. That's one day before the second presidential debate. Putting the information out now could make it seem like old news by then.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.