When all else fails, there's always the "you do it too" defense.
Hammered for months by the Obama campaign over his investments in China and his decision to park some of his personal fortune in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Mitt Romney on Tuesday night called out the president for also investing overseas.
“Look at your pension,” Romney said, in one of many confrontations between the two candidates in which the men circled so closely that an eye poke seemed imminent. “You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States. You also have investments through a Cayman’s trust.”
Romney was referring to the pension Obama earned as a former Illinois state senator. The president's defined benefit under the pension is between $50,000 and $100,000, according to financial disclosure forms.
The Romney campaign has claimed that 19 percent of the investments that comprise Obama's pension fund are in foreign companies, including some in China, the Washington Post reported. Ergo, Obama also invests in controversial places.
On its face, this is a reasonable argument. Romney is saying that foreign investments aren't a big deal, and are in fact a common part of any diversified portfolio.
But there is a substantive difference between Romney's relationship to his retirement account and Obama's to the Illinois pension fund.
As far as we know, Obama has never taken an active role in managing the assets of the pension fund. He suggested during the debate that he doesn't pay much attention to it.
Romney's retirement account, on the other hand, includes investments worth up to $30 million in a company he used to run. Those investments are actively managed for his and his wife's personal financial benefit. And while Romney claims he has no control over the blind trust that manages his retirement account, it is hard to see how those investments would differ much if he were in charge.
In the 1990s, Bain Capital, under Romney's control, set up funds in the Cayman Islands in order to attract foreign investors -- and also to benefit from preferential tax treatment. The company continues that practice today.
For example, according to their 2011 tax returns, Romney and his wife Ann had invested more than $1 million in Bain Capital Fund VIII LP, a shell company that "intends to conduct its operations ... so that it will not be subject to United States federal income or withholding tax on its income from United States sources," according to a prospectus obtained by Gawker.
To be clear: this is a fund that invests in the U.S. and is controlled by investors at least partially based in the U.S., but doesn't pay U.S. taxes. Remarkably, this is all perfectly legal, according to the Internal Revenue Service, even though Congress clearly never intended to create this tax loophole.
Romney has tried to avoid talking about this issue. When pressed, he has said that his investments have not yielded "one dollar of reduction in taxes." But he says nothing about profits.
By setting up offshore, Bain funds keep more of their earnings than they would if they were subject to U.S. taxation laws. And by investing in those funds, so do the Romneys.
Also on HuffPost:
SEC Filings List Romney As 'Chief Executive Officer'
According to the <em><a href="http://www.boston.com/news/politics/articles/2012/07/12/government_documents_indicate_mitt_romney_continued_at_bain_after_date_when_he_says_he_left/" target="_hplink"><em>Boston Globe</em></a></em>, Securites and Exchange Commission documents filed by Bain Capital after February 1999 list Romney as the private equity firm's "stole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president."
The <em><a href="http://www.boston.com/news/politics/articles/2012/07/12/government_documents_indicate_mitt_romney_continued_at_bain_after_date_when_he_says_he_left/" target="_hplink">Globe</a></em> also found financial disclosure forms filed by Romney that indicate he still owned 100 percent of Bain in 2002, and earned at least $100,000 as an "executive" for the firm in 2001 and 2002.
As <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/mitt-romney-bain-departure_n_1669006.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_hplink">The Huffington Post</a> reported, sworn testimony given by Romney in 2002 undermined his claims that he left Bain in 1999. In that testimony, given as part of a hearing to determine if he had sufficient Massachusetts residency to run for governor, Romney said that he "remained on the board" of the LifeLike Co., which Bain held a stake in at the time. LifeLike's 2000 <a href="http://www.sos.state.co.us/biz/ViewImage.do?fileId=20001165127&masterFileId=19961077091" target="_hplink">corporate filing</a>, filed with the state of Colorado, lists Romney as a director.
More SEC Filings
HuffPost's Jason Cherkis and Ryan Grim identified at least <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/13/mitt-romney-bain-sec_n_1671819.html" target="_hplink">six documents</a> filed by Bain Capital with the SEC from 1999 to 2001 that were signed by Mitt Romney. Most of the documents refer to Romney as the "reporting person."
'Managing Member' In 2002
HuffPost <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/15/mitt-romney-bain-capital_n_1674209.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_hplink">reported</a> on a 2002 corporate document filed with the state of Massachusetts that shows Romney listed as one of two managing members of Bain Capital Investors, an entity of the private equity firm.
Signed Documents After 1999
Romney signed an SEC filing in November 1999 pursuant to Bain's partial acquisition of medical-waste firm Stericycle, <em><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mitt-romney-bain-financial-disclosure" target="_hplink">Mother Jones</a></em> reported. The filing noted that he was the "sole shareholder, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President" of the Bain entities involved in the $75 million deal.
2001 & 2002 SEC Filings
<a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2012/07/no_romney_didnt_leave_bain_in_1999.php" target="_hplink">Talking Points Memo</a> uncovered two SEC filings from July 2000 and February 2001. In both, Romney lists his "principal occupation" as "Managing Director of Bain Capital, Inc."
1999 News Reports
As Slate's <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2012/07/13/did_the_romney_campaign_create_the_swift_yachting_story_.html" target="_hplink">Dave Weigel</a> pointed out, Romney's campaign has cited news reports from 1999 that clearly state that Romney left Bain in 1999. However, those same news reports state that Romney would still be involved with the company. "Romney said he will stay on as a part-timer with Bain, providing input on investment and key personnel decisions," read one such report from the <em>Boston Herald</em>
Former Partner Speaks Out
A former Bain Capital partner, Ed Conard, said during an appearance on MSNBC's "<a href="http://upwithchrishayes.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/07/15/12751962-former-bain-capital-partner-says-romney-was-legally-ceo-of-bain-capital-until-2002" target="_hplink">Up W/Chris Hayes</a>" that Romney was "legally" the CEO and sole owner of Bain Capital until 2002, as an ownership battle dragged on after Romney left to take over the Salt Lake City Olympics. "We had a very complicated set of negotiations that took us about two years for us to unwind. During that time a management committee ran the firm, and we could hardly get Mitt to come back to negotiate the terms of his departure because he was working so hard on the Olympics," Conard said.
Relationships With Problematic Companies
HuffPost's Sam Stein <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/mitt-romney-bain-capital_n_1677133.html" target="_hplink">reported</a> that SEC filings link Romney to politically problematic companies after his alleged 1999 departure from Bain: <blockquote>A Huffington Post review of SEC files unearthed six separate occasions in which Romney was listed as a member of "the Management Committee" of both Bain Capital Investment Partners and BCIP Trust, "deemed to share voting and dispositive power with respect to" shares held of DDi. In one of those filings, Romney is listed as president and managing director of Bain Capital, Inc. The dates of those filings range from April 14, 2000 to May 10, 2001 -- all after Romney had left for Salt Lake City. In one March 2001 filing, Romney signed the document as the "reporting person."</blockquote>
According at a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/mitt-romney-bain_n_1677259.html" target="_hplink">document</a> filed with the California Secretary of State's office in July 1999, Romney was listed as a "general partner" at Bain Capital Partners. Romney's signature appears on the document. Romney remained on record as a general partner until California was notified of his resignation in June 2003.