What "Not Very Much" Income Is to Mitt Romney

Up until now, Mitt Romney has refused to release his tax returns, something that he surely knew would eventually become an issue. And it isn't too hard to figure out why. When you're struggling to get past your image as an out-of-touch rich guy, having front-page stories about the millions you're pulling in isn't something you'd look forward to. And in Mitt's case, there are really two problems.

The first is his income, which we can be pretty sure is in the seven figures. And this is despite the fact that he hasn't actually held a job in years. Unlike people who work for a living, Romney makes money when his money makes him more money. Which leads us to the second problem: the tax rate he pays. Because our tax system treats investment income more favorably than wage income, Romney probably pays the capital gains tax rate of 15 percent on most of his income, as opposed to the 33 percent marginal rate he'd be paying if that money were wages. Which is what Romney was forced to admit yesterday, when he said, "It's probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything." But here's where Mitt's tone-deafness on these kinds of issues comes, once again, to bite him:

The vast majority of the income Mr. Romney reported over 12 months in 2010 and ‘11 was dividends from investments, capital gains on mutual funds and his post-retirement share of profits and investment returns from Bain Capital, the firm he once led. And Mr. Romney also noted that he made hundreds of thousands of dollars from speaking engagements.

"I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away," Mr. Romney told reporters after an event here. "And then I get speakers' fees from time to time, but not very much."

Financial disclosure forms that candidates are required to file annually shows that Mr. Romney earned $374,327.62 in speakers’ fees from February of 2010 to February of 2011, at an average of $41,592 per speech.

Oh Mitt, you really are the gift that keeps on giving. A smarter candidate would say, "I've been very fortunate to make significant amounts of money from giving speeches." But Mitt describes $374,327 in speaking fees in one year as "not very much." If you put that amount into the Wall Street Journal's handy calculator, it turns out that if those speaking fees were the only income Mitt had, he'd still be richer than 98 percent of Americans. But those speaking fees, apparently, are "not very much" to him.

Just to be clear, I don't think that the fact that Romney considers an amount of income that most of us will never dream of earning "not very much" doesn't mean he'd be a bad president, in and of itself. But like all Republicans, Romney thinks there's nothing wrong with the fact that money you get for working gets taxed at a higher rate than money you make for selling a stock or having your grandfather die and leave you a few million, and he'd like to make that disparity even more extreme.

Romney now says he'll probably release his 2011 returns in April. Which guarantees that there will be plenty of time for the Obama campaign to keep talking about it in anticipation of the big event. At the current rate, he should commit about one head-shaking gaffe per week on economic issues between now and then.

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