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Romney tax returns detail funds not included in ethics forms

Washington Bureau

Some investments listed in Mitt and Ann Romney’s 2010 tax returns — including a now-closed Swiss bank account and other funds located overseas — were not explicitly disclosed in the personal financial statement the Republican presidential hopeful filed in August as part of his White House bid.

The Romney campaign described the discrepancies as “trivial” but acknowledged Thursday that it was reviewing how the investments were reported and would make “some minor technical amendments” to Romney’s financial disclosure that would not alter the overall picture.

An examination by the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau found that at least 23 investments detailed in the couple’s 2010 tax returns did not show up or were not listed in the same fashion on Romney’s most recent financial disclosure, including 11 based in low-tax foreign countries such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg.

The campaign has emphasized that Romney has paid all required U.S. taxes on his foreign funds.

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Many of the funds that show up on Romney’s tax returns but not his financial disclosure are affiliated with Bain Capital, the Boston-based private equity firm he ran for 15 years. Several others are apparently unrelated offshore entities such as Babson 2006-1, which is based in the Cayman Islands, and Barracuda Investments, which has an address in Dublin, Ireland, but appears to be owned by Golden Gate Capital, a private equity firm based in San Francisco.

Among the assets omitted is a Swiss bank account in Ann Romney’s blind trust that held $3 million until it closed in 2010. The account was listed on a financial disclosure Romney filed in 2007, but it was mistakenly named as an asset held by the couple, not as part of Ann Romney’s trust. A campaign spokeswoman said Thursday that Romney will file amendments to both his 2007 and 2011 financial disclosures to correctly identify the bank account.

The Romney campaign dismissed the omission of information as inadvertent and inconsequential, noting he has released more than 600 pages of details about his finances. Indeed, among the hundreds of investments listed on his recent financial disclosure are many foreign funds.

But the discrepancies speak to a broader challenge facing Romney: convincing voters that he can relate to their economic distress despite his immense fortune.

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The former Massachusetts governor — who made millions leading a firm that specialized in leveraged buyouts — has displayed a tin ear when answering questions about his personal wealth.

He described his net worth as “between $150 [million] and about $200 and some odd million” Wednesday when pressed by Univision anchor Jorge Ramos about how much money he had. Earlier in the month, Romney characterized the $374,000 he made in speaker’s fees in 2010 and 2011 as “not very much.”

The extent of Romney’s holdings and indications that he may not have reported them all correctly could reinforce his image as elite and out of touch.

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced Thursday he was also amending his financial disclosure report to reflect $252,000 in previously unreported wages.

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Presidential candidates must disclose their financial holdings to the Office of Governmental Ethics, a step required to discourage real or perceived corruption. Romney’s filing is supposed to detail his assets and income from Jan. 1, 2010, through Aug. 12, 2011, when he filed the report.

The campaign has spent the last week scouring documents and plans to consult with officials from the ethics office and the Federal Election Commission.

Many of the inconsistencies appear to stem from the different reporting requirements of the Internal Revenue Service and the ethics office. Some of the undisclosed foreign funds, for example, are part of larger investment portfolios that were reported on the financial disclosure form but required individual reports in the Romney tax returns because they were overseas companies, a Romney associate said.

In other cases, the assets did not meet the minimum threshold of value to trigger reporting on the financial disclosure form. And some funds did not provide required paperwork at the time the report was filed.

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But other assets, the associate acknowledged, may have fallen through the cracks.

“The inescapable fact is that by releasing over 600 pages of information regarding his finances, Mitt Romney is clearly coming down on the side of disclosure,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement. “Any document with this level of complexity and detail is bound to have a few trivial inadvertent issues. We are in the process of putting together some minor technical amendments, which will not alter the overall picture of Gov. and Mrs. Romney’s finances as disclosed in August.”

The discrepancies puzzled some ethics experts.

“I wonder what theory they could possibly have for declaring an asset to the United States Internal Revenue Service and not putting it on federal financial disclosure forms,” said Stanley Brand, a Washington ethics lawyer who has represented federal candidates from both political parties. “Failure to do so would lead a candidate to face the obvious question: ‘Why didn’t you disclose it?’ ”

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But Jan Baran, head of the election law group at the Washington firm Wiley Rein, said federal candidates did not need to disclose some assets that meet the governmental ethics office’s definition of an “excepted investment fund.”

“Some sources of income may be indirect, such as in investment funds or mutual funds, and income from their holdings might show up on a tax return but not on an ethics disclosure report,” Baran said.

Most of Romney’s income, which averaged more than $20 million in the last two years, is held in three separate blind trusts set up when he became governor of Massachusetts in 2003.

Nearly all the funds that don’t show up on the financial disclosure form are entities listed on the 2010 tax return for Ann Romney’s blind trust. While Romney’s financial disclosure details three pages of investments held by Ann Romney’s trust, 21 entities that the couple reported as part of their tax filing are missing or not reported in the same fashion.

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One other fund, the Bermuda-based Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors Ltd., is listed in the couple’s joint 2010 tax return but cannot be found on Romney’s financial statement.

matea.gold@latimes.com

tom.hamburger@latimes.com


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