The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

August 29, 2012

Taxes and college

Bob Harper

TARBORO — This column is not about how much taxes we pay and what it costs to go to college or anything like that.  It's about the demand for Mitt Romney to give out more, and more, and more tax information, or that he should. And shouldn't Obama release his college records that are sealed and no one knows what information they might contain.

On the Romney tax case we all know that the IRS does a fantastic job of being sure all U.S. citizens pay the amount of income taxes they owe. But, okay let's double check behind the IRS The records show that Romney has paid $6.2 million in taxes and also donated $7 million to charity.

Romney's charitable giving represents about 13 percent of his income. I feel better about his charitable giving than his tax payments.  At least his generous charitable donations go directly to help those in need and are no wasted in Washington by bureaucrats.  Romney also gave to charity his entire inheritance from his father who died in 1995.

Obama also gave to charities.  He gave $10,772 of the $1.2 million he earned from 2000 through 2004 which, according to the tax returns for those years represented less than 1 percent of his earnings during those years.

Obama gave more to charity in 2005 and 2006, with a larger income from the publication of his book.  In those years he gave 5 percent.

With presidential ambitions coming on strong, Obama donated 5.7 percent of his income to charity in 2007.  Meanwhile, Joe Biden contributed $369 to charity every year for 10 years before he came to Washington. That's less about .3 percent of his income.  Biden did step that up to about 1.4 percent of his income in 2010.

One thing that the Obama campaign seems to be counting on is that so many of us are not so well informed about our income tax paying responsibilities.  I know of no one who pays more income taxes than the law requires.  That includes Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. What some people would call tax dodges are actually veneers that benefit many good purposes.  Tax exempt municipal bonds than help municipalities raise funds that keep the local population from having to pay such high local taxes is just one example.

Another example would be a Blind Trust that a number of wealthy people have. No, it's not about a blind man walking down the middle of the highway and trusting that he won't be run over.  The Romneys have a blind trust and they don't have a clue what its worth and even the president can't demand that all blind trust be open to him or anyone else.

In this election it seems that if one is wealthy then that, in itself, is a curse and should automatically render that person a terrible human being. It should also automatically be reason to vote against him. Has it always been this way or is something different when an incumbent president cannot run on his record?

Actually George Washington was perhaps our wealthiest president as his net worth in today's dollars would be around $525 million.  Then there was Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, all very wealthy presidents, but no one made a big deal about it, even though it was all inherited wealth.  None of them was ever employed outside of the political circle.

Now let's move to college.  The question here is why are the college records of Obama sealed?  We have always been able to obtain records on just how presidents or presidential candidates did in college.  But, for some reason the college records of Obama are sealed.  I don't think they're sealed because he made poor grades or something like that.  After all, a number of our past presidents were 'C' students in college and did very well as presidents.

I don't think that perhaps it would show he took a number of courses about Russian leaders like Lenin and Marx or about Communist or Socialist governments.  This, he could say, would enable him to best understand how to better deal with such world leaders.

What is bothering a number of people is could it have anything to do with his admission to college to start with?  I will accept the premise that Obama was born in Hawaii and is a true citizen of the U.S.  But, what if he sees it can be much easier and less expensive for him to enter college if he does so as a foreign exchange student than as a U.S. citizen?  I would think it would be tempting to go the easy and less costly way.  The best way to find out is to unseal those college records.

In past presidential races the incumbent campaigned on his record of achievement while in office. Not this time. Nothing is said about, "You didn't do this, somebody else did." Or "The private sector is doing fine."

The campaign strategy is to attack, attack and attack.  It reminds me of the old sayings, "If you tell a lie loud enough and often enough a lot of people will believe it." And "If you throw enough mud against the wall,  some of it will stick."   Have modern presidential elections come to this?

(Bob Harper is a Tarboro resident who writes a column of general interest.)