Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot
Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.
We already know that Mormon Mitt Romney has been tremendously generous to his church, giving over $5 million in the past two years alone, but now we learn that his charitable activity with LDS may not have been entirely altruistic. Bloomberg’s Jesse Drucker reports that Romney exploited the church’s tax-exempt status to lower his tax bill.
Romney reportedly took advantage of a loophole, called a charitable remainder unitrust or CRUT, which allows someone to park money or securities in a tax-deferred trust marked for his or her favorite charity, but which often doesn’t pay out much to the nonprofit. The donor pays taxes on the fixed yearly income from the trust, but the principal remains untaxed. Congress outlawed the practice in 1997, but Romney slid in under the wire when his trust, created in June 1996, was grandfathered in.
The trust essentially lets someone “rent” the charity’s tax-exemption while not actually giving the charity much money. If done for this purpose, the trust pays out more every year to the donor than it makes in returns on its holdings, depleting the principal over time, so that when the donor dies and the trust is transferred to the charity, there’s often little left. The actual contribution “is just a throwaway,” Jonathan Blattmachr, a lawyer who set up hundreds of CRUTs in the 1990s, told Bloomberg. “I used to structure them so the value dedicated to charity was as close to zero as possible without being zero.”
Indeed, this appears to be the case for Romney’s trust as well. Bloomberg obtained the trust’s tax returns through a Freedom of Information Request and found that Romney’s CRUT started at $750,000 in 2001 but ended 2011 with only $421,203 — over a period when the stock market grew. Romney’s trust was projected to leave less than 8 percent of the original contribution to the church (or another charity that he can designate). This, along with the trust’s poor returns — it made just $48 in 2011 — suggest the trust is not designed to grow for the LDS church but just serve as a tax-free holding pool from which annual payments can be disbursed to the Romneys.
This is hardly the first tax-avoidance strategy Romney has employed. It’s well known that he holds offshore bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, but he has used more obscure vehicles as well. There’s the “total return equity swap,” where a taxpayer calls a stock he owns by another name and doesn’t pay taxes on it. There’s the way he’s been avoiding gift and estate taxes through a trust that he set up for his children and grandchildren. And there’s the neat trick whereby private equity firms claim that management fees are capital gains and thus qualify for a lower tax rate than straight income. Bain Capital was known for pursuing an aggressive tax-mitigation strategy (they’re now under investigation for it), and so was Marriott Hotels when Romney was an influential board member.
And it’s not just taxpayers who lose out. “The Romneys get theirs off the top and the charity gets what’s left,” said Michael Arlein, a trusts and estates lawyer at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP. “So by definition, if it’s not performing as well, the charity gets harmed more.”
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.More Alex Seitz-Wald.
Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China
Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti
“Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA
Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.
Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada
Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway
Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.
Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.
Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million
Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.
Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon
Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.
Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico
Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.
Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.