Mitt Romney's $250 million fortune is largely a black hole: Aside from the meager and vague disclosures he has filed under federal and Massachusetts laws, and the two years of partial tax returns (one filed and another provisional) he has released, there is almost no data on precisely what his vast holdings consist of, or what vehicles he has used to escape taxes on his income. Gawker has obtained a massive cache of confidential financial documents that shed a great deal of light on those finances, and on the tax-dodging tricks available to the hyper-rich that he has used to keep his effective tax rate at roughly 13% over the last decade.
Today, we are publishing more than 950 pages of internal audits, financial statements, and private investor letters for 21 cryptically named entities in which Romney had invested—at minimum—more than $10 million as of 2011 (that number is based on the low end of ranges he has disclosed—the true number is almost certainly significantly higher). Almost all of them are affiliated with Bain Capital, the secretive private equity firm Romney co-founded in 1984 and ran until his departure in 1999 (or 2002, depending on whom you ask). Many of them are offshore funds based in the Cayman Islands. Together, they reveal the mind-numbing, maze-like, and deeply opaque complexity with which Romney has handled his wealth, the exotic tax-avoidance schemes available only to the preposterously wealthy that benefit him, the unlikely (for a right-wing religious Mormon) places that his money has ended up, and the deeply hypocritical distance between his own criticisms of Obama's fiscal approach and his money managers' embrace of those same policies. They also show that some of the investments that Romney has always described as part of his retirement package at Bain weren't made until years after he left the company.
Bain isn't a company so much as an intricate suite of steadily proliferating inter-related holding companies and limited partnerships, some based in Delaware and others in the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, and elsewhere, designed to collectively house roughly $66 billion in wealth in its many crevices and chambers. When Romney left in 1999, he and his wife retained significant investments in many of those Bain vehicles—he claims they are "passive investments" and that they are managed in a blind trust (though the trustee isn't blind enough to meet federal standards of independence). But aside from disparate snippets of information contained in his federal and Massachusetts financial disclosure forms, his 2010 tax returns, and SEC filings, the nature of those investments has been obfuscated by design.
When he disclosed his finances to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in 2007, Romney took care to publish the underlying holdings of many funds he invested with—after disclosing his $1 million-plus stake in "GS 2002 Exchange Place Fund LP," for instance, he listed six pages of individual equities the fund held, from Panera Bread Co. to Tribune Co. But when it came to the Bain investments, he simply listed the value of his investments in odd-sounding entities like "Sankaty High Yield Partners II LP" with no indication of what was inside. In an accompanying note, he claimed that he had tried and failed to get the information: "The filer has requested information about the underlying holdings of these funds and values and income amounts for these underlying holdings. However, the fund managers have informed the filer in writing that this information is confidential and proprietary, and has declined to provide such information."
That information—for Sankaty and 20 other funds—is now available here, in the form of 48 documents totaling more than 950 pages. They consist predominantly of confidential internal audited financial statements from 2008, 2009, and 2010, as well as investor letters from the same period, for Bain entities that Romney has previously disclosed owning an interest it. Owing to the timeframe—during and after the catastrophic economic meltdown of 2008—some of the investments show substantial losses. One limited partnership had even entered into liquidation as of October 2008 after failing to meet certain payments owed to partners. Others show astronomical gains.
The documents are exceedingly complicated. We don't pretend to be qualified to decode them in full, which is why we are posting them here for readers to help evaluate—please leave your thoughts in the discussion below. We asked an attorney who specializes in complex offshore corporate transactions, including ones involving Cayman Island entities, to review them and help us understand them. (We also asked the Romney campaign. It hasn't responded yet.) The full set can be read here.
Here's what we've found so far:
[Image by Jim Cooke; photo via Getty]