Mitt Romney has just released his long-awaited 2011 tax returns, and guess what? He deliberately overpaid his 2011 federal tax burden so he wouldn't look like an avaricious plutocrat gaming the system. Which is just bizarre.

According to a summary of their 2011 return released by the Romney campaign, the Romneys paid $1,935,708 in federal income taxes last year on $13,696,951 in income, almost all of it from his investments. That comes out to a 14.1% tax rate, far below the top rate of 35% for earned income. But here's the thing: Had Romney taken full advantage of all the deductions available to him, the rate would have been much lower, perhaps as low as 9%. He donated $4,020,772 to charity (good for him!), but only claimed a deduction on $2.25 million of that. Why? His campaign told BuzzFeed:

He has been clear that no American need pay more than he or she owes under the law. At the same time, he was in the unique position of having made a commitment to the public that his tax rate would be above 13%. In order to be consistent with that statement, the Romneys limited their deduction of charitable contributions.

In other words, Romney picked a tax rate and told his accountant to hit it. "Just get me somewhere north of 13% so people don't get mad at me." It's just an accounting gimmick; numerical smoke and mirrors. The tax return version of "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake—I can't have illegals!" Romney's reasoning is that he has previously said he never paid less than 13% in taxes. BUT HE WAS WRONG! Because in 2012, his burden under our galactically unjust tax system was less than 13%. So in order to retroactively render his remarks accurate, he simply rejiggered some numbers, neglected to take some deductions, and paid 14.1%. See—all fixed!

Myself and others will be poring over the returns for the rest of the afternoon, and if there's anything to say I'll update. Romney also released a summary from Pricewaterhouse Coopers of his previous 20 years of taxes—he still refuses to release the returns themselves. The bullet points:

  • "In each year during the entire 20-year period, the Romneys owed both state and federal income taxes."
  • "Over the entire 20-year period, the average annual effective federal tax rate was 20.20%."
  • "Over the entire 20-year period, the lowest annual effective federal personal tax rate was 13.66%."

That would tend to contradict Harry Reid's famous claim that Romney paid no taxes in certain years. But the large unanswered question is: Did the Romney's at any point amend or refile any of those old tax returns? I asked the campaign, and—while they did promptly answer some other questions—they didn't answer that one. Which leaves open the possibility that Romney amended some prior years with the same goal he had in mind in 2011—to make the tax rate more politically palatable.

[Image via Getty.]