The considerable Romney assets that don't show up on most measures of his wealth.
Josh HarkinsonSep. 24, 2012 6:00 AM
Is Mitt Romney richer than he's letting on? It's generally agreed that, if elected in November, Romney would be the wealthiest president in American history, but the extent of his wealth goes well beyond what is normally reported in the press.
According to the Romney campaign's most recent disclosure of his personal finances, he's worth between $190 and $250 million. However, those figures only include financial assets such as stocks, bonds, and cash. Presidential candidates are not required to disclose a variety of other potentially high-value holdings, including family real estate and money in certain trusts and charities. Here are some of the Romney assets that don't show up in typical measures of his wealth:
Houses: +$18 Million
Romney's beach house in La Jolla, CaliforniaZillowUnlike most Americans, Romney keeps only a small portion of his wealth locked up in residential real estate—"small" being a relative term here. In 2008, the Romneys dropped $12 million on a beachfront house in La Jolla, California ($3.3 million more than it's valued for tax purposes). More recently he ordered a $55,000 "Phantom Park" car elevator— item 28 in our "History of Mitt Romney in 30 Objects"—to move their automobiles in and out of the home's basement garage. When in Massachusetts, the Romneys stay in an $895,000 townhouse condo. And come summertime, the family decamps to Wolfreboro, New Hampshire, where their $8 million lakefront compound includes a six-bedroom house, a horse stable with guest apartments over it, and a $630,000 boat house. In 2009, Romney sold a mansion in Belmont, Massachusetts, for $3.5 million and a 9,500-square-foot ski house in Park City, Utah, for around $5 million.
Water Toys: +$150,000
Rhea C./FlickrThis Fourth of July weekend, Romney was photographed outside his lake house driving his grandchildren in a 29-foot Sea Ray. It's most likely a Sea Ray 290 Select EX, which you could pick up used for $80,000 to $100,000. Romney's boat garage also houses two SeaDoo jet skis, a Boston Whaler, and a Malibu ski boat.
In February, Romney got in trouble for trying to ingratiate himself to Michigan voters by casually mentioning that his wife drives "a couple of Cadillacs." According to the campaign, they're SUV models worth between $35,000 and $49,000 each. Ann Romney keeps one on each coast. Romney also owns a 2005 Ford Mustang and 2002 Chevy pickup. Campaign lore, meanwhile, expounds the man's legendary thriftiness.
Mitt and Ann Romney are the sole donors to the Tyler Charitable Foundation, a tax-exempt charitable organization run by R. Bradford Malt, the high-powered attorney who also oversees Romney's investments. While money from the charity does not pay the Romneys' bills, it does sometimes fund causes that benefit the couple politically or economically. In 2010, for example, the foundation gave $100,000 to the George W. Bush library because, as a Romney adviser later explained, "Romney wanted to show his appreciation for George W. Bush." And a $10,000 donation the same year to the US Equestrian Team Foundation, which helps prepare the team for the Olympics, might have benefited Rafalca, the Romney-owned dressage horse that competed in this year's games. In 2011, according to Romney's newly released tax return, the family gave $4.1 million to charity, but only took a deduction of $2.5 million. Mother Jones' Adam Server argues that this was a deliberate move to raise his effective tax rate on paper, since Romney's far lower-than-average tax rate has made him the target of criticism that he's not paying his fair share.
Created 17 years ago to benefit Romney's five sons, the Ann and Mitt Romney 1995 Family Trust is worth "roughly $100 million," a Romney campaign official said a few months ago. The Romney campaign claims that its candidate did not pay gift taxes* on money in the trust, which, if true, would mean that Romney could have only funded it to the tune of $10.6 million, with the rest of its assets reflecting capital gains. Tax experts find that scenario unlikely, and argue that Romney might have made a low-interest loan to the trust, which the trust then used to make investments. Whatever the setup, Romney should have no trouble influencing how the money is allocated: The fund's sole trustee is R. Bradford Malt, Romney's financial adviser. It's also worth noting that Romney's affluent sons don't appear to need the money anymore. Theoretically, each son and his wife could gift up to $26,000 back to their father each year, tax free.
*Romney does, however, pay significant income taxes related to the fund. According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning financial journalist David Cay Johnston, this allows him to significantly increase his effective tax rate—a good thing when you're running for president. This and more on Romney's 2011 return here.
So what is Romney really worth?
Add together all of the above, and Romney is worth up to $378.3 million, some 50 percent more than the upper bound that typically gets reported.
Just how rich are the Waltons? According to the latest edition of the Forbes 400, released yesterday, the six wealthiest heirs to the Walmart empire are together worth a staggering $115 billion. This marks the first time in American history that one family has controlled a 12-figure fortune. While the nation's richest person is still Bill Gates, the sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-richest Americans are all Waltons.
To put that in perspective, here's a chart of things the Waltons could afford to pay for:
The Waltons' fortune might be something to celebrate if not for the fact that they've raked it in at our expense. Sasha Abramsky writes:
In 2004, a year in which Wal-Mart reported $9.1 billion in profits, the retailer's California employees collected $86 million in public assistance, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley. Other studies have revealed widespread use of publicly funded health care by Wal-Mart employees in numerous states. In 2004, Democratic staffers of the House education and workforce committee calculated that each 200-employee Wal-Mart store costs taxpayers an average of more than $400,000 a year, based on entitlements ranging from energy-assistance grants to Medicaid to food stamps to WIC—the federal program that provides food to low-income women with children.
The average Walmart worker earns just $8.81 an hour. At that wage, the union-backed Making Change at Walmart campaign calculates that a Walmart worker would need:
7 million years to earn as much wealth as the Walton family has (presuming the worker doesn't spend anything)
170,000 years to earn as much money as the Walton family receives annually in Walmart dividends
1 year to earn as much money as the Walton family earns in Walmart dividends every three minutes
James West, Tim McDonnell, Josh Harkinson, and Adam WeinsteinSep. 17, 2012 11:05 AM
Twelve months after they slept, ate, and occasionally got arrested with the demonstrators, our team of journalists has returned to Lower Manhattan to follow #s17 protesters observing the birthday of Occupy Wall Street. Below is our Storify of MJ street reporting, plus updates from our friends and colleagues across the internets (please be patient: The Storify may take a few seconds to load):
For the one-year anniversary, I tracked down five occupiers I met last fall in Zuccotti Park.
Josh HarkinsonSep. 17, 2012 6:00 AM
It was one year ago today that the pioneers of Occupy Wall Street first unrolled their sleeping bags in Zuccotti Park. Though the movement is long gone from the headlines, it can be credited for calling BS on our money-driven political system and launching a national conversation about class and economic inequality—one that still looms large in the presidential campaign.
I showed up at the Zuccotti Park encampment in its second week for what I thought would be just a day, but I ended up reporting on the movement from New York City all through the fall and beyond. What most fascinated me were the occupiers themselves, people alternately principled and unrealistic, brave and foolhardy, idealistic and naive. Occupy Wall Street may or may not have changed the world, but it certainly changed those who took part in it. For the anniversary, I decided to track down five of the folks I met in Zuccotti—from a key movement organizer to a heroin addict—to see where they're at now. These are their stories. (Also read "365 Days of Occupy Wall Street—an Anniversary Timeline.")
This brilliant film by the creators of the Oscar-nominated 2006 documentary Jesus Camp opens in the Detroit Opera House with a performance of Nabucco—a Verdi work that follows the plight of the Jews exiled from Babylon. Juxtaposed with visual evidence of the city's exodus—Detroit has lost half its population, and the opera house is itself near bankruptcy—it's an apt opening to a eulogy for the nation's most dystopian city. However, in once-vibrant neighborhoods that have turned into overgrown wastelands, Detropia finds grim beauty and a wealth of hopeful lessons for America's middle class. Among them: Destruction can unleash creativity, if we're brave enough to let it.