Mitt Romney Downplays $374,000 In Speaking Fees As 'Not Very Much'

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney has a new definition of "not much": $374,327.

On Tuesday, the Republican presidential candidate finally admitted that the effective tax rate he has been paying for the last several years is likely below that of middle-class workers, which would also include military servicemembers.

In Greenville, S.C., Romney was asked directly what his effective tax rate is. It was a hot topic of discussion at Monday night's debate, at which Romney repeatedly declined to fully commit to release his tax returns.

"It's probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything," said Romney on Tuesday. "For the past 10 years, my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past, rather than ordinary income or earned annual income. I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away. Then, I get speakers fees from time to time, but not very much."

Not very much? According to his personal financial disclosure, from February 2010 to February 2011, Romney earned $374,327.62 in speaking fees. A few months later, Romney joked that he was "unemployed."

His rival, Newt Gingrich, said that he made $60,000 per speech -- defending himself against the charge that he served as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac, for which he was paid over $1.6 million for strategic advice.

Romney has an estimated wealth of between $190 million to $250 million, according to financial disclosure reports. Upon leaving Bain Capital in 1999, he negotiated a retirement package guaranteeing him a percentage of the firm's profits.

A single worker who earns more than $35,350 in income pays a 25 percent tax rate on earnings above that amount. Many families that earn less than $100,000 per year pay an effective rate of just above that, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The Huffington Post's Jon Ward asked Romney about his tax rate in Iowa last December. "You take advantage of the opportunity to be in America, to build a bright future, and you pay your taxes as required by law," he said. "And if something is a capital gain, it should be treated as a capital gain. If something is ordinary income, it should be treated as ordinary income. And the determination of those things has been made by Congress and by the courts and by the Internal Revenue Service. I've always followed the law as to the taxes that we've paid, my wife and I have paid." Romney added that he favors eliminating taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends for middle-income Americans, but not for high-income Americans.

Romney's wealthy welfare comes from a loophole in the tax code that taxes long-term capital gains at a 15 percent rate. Private equity executives are then "paid" with capital gains instead of regular income. The executives, such as Romney, then tell the Internal Revenue Service that they were not being reimbursed a salary for work they performed but instead were merely investors reaping the rewards of risk taking. Happily for the executives, any investments that go belly up and lead to bankruptcy and mass layoffs can be counted against the earnings, which amounts to a tax subsidy for failed projects.

This story has been updated to reflect Romney's speaking fees according to his financial disclosure.

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