Democrats are all in a twitter over the recent revelation that Mitt Romney likely paid an annual average of only 15% of his income in taxes. They ignore the likelihood that he also likely paid an average of 10% of his income in annual tithing to charities as required by his Mormon faith. Democrats are banking on the premise that this sort of class envy rhetoric might help them in a year when the public has become conditioned to blame capitalism for the economic woes that have beset the country these past three years.
As a presidential candidate, how does Mitt Romney stack up in terms of wealth and taxes when compared to other presidential candidates in recent elections? Mitt Romney is, after all, being criticized for being rich but how, putting aside the fact that there is nothing at all wrong with being rich per se, does Mitt Romney compare to other recent candidates for president and how, when compared to other candidates, did Mitt Romney make his money?
Let’s start with Massachusetts other recent presidential nominee, 2004 Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry. Boston radio talk show host Howie Carr likes to point out that Kerry, likely the richest person in Congress and worth an estimate just shy of a billion dollars, lives off of the fortune of “his second wife’s first husband.” While Kerry married his money, Mitt Romney was earning his as a founding partner of Bain Capital which was worth $37 million at its founding in 1983 and which is worth over $66 billion today.
While Bain could be legitimately criticized for some of its dealings, on the aggregate, Bain Capital has been an incredible success story and is a company that has been respected by liberals and conservatives alike in Massachusetts.
The 2000 Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore, is another case in point. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Al Gore Jr. was the beneficiary of a stock portfolio set up by his late father, Senator Al Gore Sr. when Gore Sr. was CEO of the division of Occidental Petroleum that was involved in strip mining and polluting Love Canal in upstate New York.
The means of obtaining wealth and the tax returns of President Bill Clinton are the stuff of legends. Benefiting from a cattle futures trade that turned a couple of thousand bucks into a hundred thousand virtually overnight, Clinton’s wife was appointed to the board of several major corporations with lucrative benefits, including Wall Mart, while Clinton was Governor of Arkansas and the corporations in question were doing business in his state. The Clinton’s were involved in the notoriously unethical, but legal, real estate deal known as Whitewater which involved such charming aspects as throwing elderly owners of units out if they were a day or two late on their mortgage. Meanwhile, Clinton’s tax returns revealed tax deductions for soiled underwear.
Clinton and his wife went on the receive multi-million advances for their memoirs after leaving the White House and the former president garners six figure fees for speaking engagements which brings us to the present occupant of the White House. Besides making millions in advances from his books, and admitting to receiving a sweetheart real estate deal from Chicago convicted felon Tony Rezko, President Barack Obama was accused of profiting from drug company stock while a senator overseeing drug regulation. President Obama did nothing illegal as, apparently, this has been the practice of several senators and representatives of both parties in recent years.
The important question for a presidential candidate is not whether they are rich but how they earned their wealth. Romney made his money the old fashioned way, he earned it. In these times of economic dislocation, massive public debt, and financial insecurity at home and abroad, this question is important as we consider who would be the right leader for these times.