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Saturday, April 17, 2004

Equal time

By popular demand, I have taken a look at John Kerry's 2003 federal tax return, and I must say it is a measure of the man himself. That is to say, pretty boring!

Kerry and his ketchup-fortune-heiress spouse file separate tax returns, and they release only his to to the public. Under the tax laws, items pass so easily between spouses that it's very difficult to judge either one's wealth by looking at just his or her return. Thus, it's hard to get too excited about anything on JFK Lite's return, since his wife obviously wears the money belt in the family.

Why do the Kerrys file separately? Surely it must be for privacy. It seems unlikely that this arrangement saves the couple any taxes.

In any case, the Democratic candidate for President is no slouch in the income department. He lists $147,818 in salary, $89,220 in royalties, and a $145,805 capital gain for the year. He received $11,141 in dividends on stocks, $1,250 in taxable interest, and $871 of tax-exempt interest. Throw in a $104 tax refund that he got from Massachusetts, and his gross for the year was $395,338.

On the deduction side, John Boy looks as though he led a pretty typical American life. He paid $8,381 in state income taxes, and $3,326 in interest on a home mortgage. Most significantly, he shows a $43,650 deduction for gifts to charity. After his deductions take a "haircut" on account of his high level of gross income, he's left with a taxable income of $346,664. Like Dick Cheney, he falls into the ever-widening alternative minimum tax (AMT) trap. And so his tax for the year (before a foreign tax credit of $84 for taxes paid to the U.K.) winds up to be $90,659 (not including interest, which he very well may owe because he had too little taken out during the year and wound up having to write a check for $63,298 to Uncle Sam).

As reported on his original return, Kerry's tax was 22.93% of adjusted gross; 22.88% of gross including tax-exempt interest; and 26.15% of taxable income. However, after correction by his accountants (see below), Kerry's tax was 25.86% of adjusted gross; 25.8% of gross including tax-exempt interest; and 29.49% of taxable income. The comparable percentages for President Bush and Vice President Cheney were as follows:

Bush: Tax was 27.67% of adjusted gross; 27.67% of gross including tax-exempt interest; 31.29% of taxable income.
Cheney: Tax was 19.59% of adjusted gross; 12.5% of gross including tax-exempt interest; 30.54% of taxable income.
Kerry: Tax was 25.86% of adjusted gross; 25.8% of gross including tax-exempt interest; 29.49% of taxable income.
Based on a comparison of those first two percentages, it's interesting to note that the wealthiest of the three, Dick Cheney, had by far the lowest tax rates. He certainly didn't get that rich by being dumb! (Bush and Kerry, on the other hand, weren't far apart.)

Anyway, getting back to Kerry, he's a trust fund baby, being the beneficiary of no fewer than four trusts. These are what produced most of his $12,000 or so of investment income. One of the trusts also produced run-of-the-mill capital gains for him of about $2,600. But his big capital gain was his $175,000 profit on the sale in March 2003 of a one-half interest in a painting by Dutch baroque era painter Adam Willaerts. The sale price of Kerry's half was $675,000, and his tax "basis" in it was $500,000. That's a $1,350,000 painting, folks. (Apparently it was purchased in May of 1996 for $1 million.) It's not clear from the return who owned the other half of the painting, or whether their share was sold. Anyway, it must be nice.

Kerry's accountants miscalculated the tax on the gain on the sale of the painting. It should have been taxed at 28 percent, instead of the 20 percent rate that they used. Kerry has already filed an amended return and paid another $11,577 in tax to clean up this blooper, for a revised federal tax bill (before foreign tax credit) of $102,236.

Kerry received a $89,220 royalty during the year (on his book, apparently) via the Helen Reese Agency in Boston. Unlike Lynne Cheney, who paid Medicare tax on her book royalties, Kerry took the position that his author activities are sufficiently limited that the royalties do not rise to the level of "net earnings from self-employment." Very interesting. If Kerry had reported the royalties the way Cheney had, he would have paid well over $2,000 in additional tax on them.

We're told that Kerry intends to donate the after-tax proceeds from the book to charity. By waiting until 2004 to make the donation, however, he has insured that the charity winds up with less than it would have gotten had he either (a) donated the copyright and let the charity collect the royalties, or (b) donated the royalties in the same year that they were received, thus negating the income tax on them entirely. Not good planning, John! (I recall that Hillary bungled her book royalty donation in a similar fashion a few years back.)

Unlike the Cheneys, Kerry lists his tax return preparation fee as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, which means he got no deduction for it. Also unlike his Republican rivals, Kerry has disclosed all of the statements attached to his return. From them we get some additional juicy tidbits of information. He gave $85 worth of junk to Goodwill; $15,000 cash to the NE Shelter for Homeless Veterans; and $10,000 cash to something called Liberty House. Another $18,650 went in cash gifts to unnamed "miscellaneous" charities.

The outfit that prepares Kerry's return, Federal Street Capital Partners (fee: $620), adopts the practice of listing a number of items that might have been deductible, but in fact weren't, based on Kerry's relatively high level of income. For one, there's a $9,025 medical expense listed. Tongues will wag: Botox or cancer treatment? There's a $610 item for "union and professional dues." I assume the Senate isn't a collective bargaining unit (although there's an idea), and so this must be some kind of professional dues. Trustees picked up $1,886 in fees and expenses, which is fairly modest compared to the monster "miscellaneous" expenses that show up on the Bush and Cheney tax returns.

Then Kerry pops onto the return a $3,000 deduction identified only as a "sec. 162(a) bus. exp." -- a "miscellaneous" business expense. There's no explanation of what this is, and the IRS instructions for this form don't list business expenses as one of the types to be deducted on this line. Kerry didn't file as the sole proprietor of a business, and so one wonders what this expense could have been. If it related to his job as a senator, it should have been thrown in with the dues, and it would not have been deductible.

To sum up, If I were an IRS agent, I'd have three questions for the candidates: For Kerry, I'd see if Medicare tax wasn't owed on those book royalties, and I'd want to know what that $3,000 business deduction was all about. And I'd definitely need to see more about Cheney's tax return prep fees.

But those are all chump change items, ladies and gentlemen. Bottom line: These guys are loaded! (As is John Edwards, were he to join this group.)

Comments (14)

Liberty House is a proposed New Hampshire shelter for homeless vets fighting alcohol addiction. It made minor headlines in Boston papers when Kerry and Wesley Clark were fighting to see who was more committed to New England vets. Interesting that he only claimed $10K, as the Globe reported that he'd given $20K.

When Kerry says he is donating the "after-tax" proceeds from his book, he's pulling a bit of a fast one on us. If the book proceeds were $89,220, he'll pay federal and state taxes of approximately 40% on the marginal income, leaving a charitable contribution of about $54,000. But he gets the benefit of that contribution in reducing his taxes in the year of the contribution by $54,000 x 40%, or about $22,000. It's his prerogative to give as much or as little of the proceeds to charity as he wants, but he shouldn't pretend he doesn't benefit.

Per the CCH Master Tax Guide: "The tax home of a member of the U.S. Congress is the member's residence in the state or Congressional District that the member represents. However, deductions for meals and lodging while in Washington are limited to $3,000 per year, after applying the 2% floor. (Code Sec. 162(a))" Because this provision of the Internal Revenue Code only applies to members of Congress, it's clear why it wasn't included in the general 1040 instructions.

Well, Steve, there you go. One of my two questions for Mr. Kerry answered. A special deal applicable only to members of Congress. Kind of like those parking spaces at National Airport...

An Instalanche. I'm impressed Jack.

Hi, John. It's only happened once before.

WOW!!! If Kerry's $89,220 in book royalties don't rise to the level of "net earnings from self-employment," then the IRS surely must not expect me to pay Medicare taxes on the $13,000 in consulting I made last year (my only income). Gee, what the heck was my Schedule SE frickin' FOR?


Further evidence of our elected aristocracy.

I thought that Congresscritters received a per diem allowance (or similar) for their DC activites. If so, I wonder what expenses of the $3,000 exceeded the allowance?

Kerry took an $85.00 deducation on stuff he gave to Goodwill. Goodwill! What did he do - give underwear, or some of his ill-gotten Purple Heart medals?

How much did Kerry give to charity? And why is he paying $90,000 in tax when he is selling homes in Italy to George Clooney for millions of dollars?

In short, John Kerry and his wife look like two people who are so busy stiffing the taxpayer, and now he wants to be President so he can do it to the rest of us through new taxes he plans to impose.

You found it 'interesting' that Cheney had the lowest tax rate despite being the wealthiest. Note, however, that his tax as a percentage of taxable income is comparable to the other two.

The reason his rate seems so much lower when you look at the other numbers is because he got a much larger CHARITABLE GIFT DEDUCTION! Thats right, he paid less in taxes as a percent of total income because he gave a bunch of it away to charities. GWB and Kerry were not as generous givers and so didn't get as large deductions.

Some people might get the impression that Cheney was able to take advantage of some sort of tax loophole for the wealthy the way you pointed it out. So I just want to make it clear that the loophole Cheney used is available to everyone, just give your income away!

Sheesh! I've tried to be as nonpartisan as I can in these tax return stories, but the Bush backers are all over this, and they're jumping to their boys' defense. (Or are they just sounding defensive?)

Anyway, Diego's right -- Cheney's rates are lower in large part because of his wife's (heh heh, gotcha, Diego) huge charitable contributions. If you take charitable contributions out of the Cheneys' gross, their tax rates are 26.23% of adjusted gross and 14.9% of total gross including tax-exempt interest. If you do the same for Kerry, his rates are 29.08% of adjusted gross, and 29.01% of total gross including tax-exempt interest. At least on adjusted gross, they're a lot closer.

Am I the only one curious about that $3,326 home mortgage interest deduction? That seems extremely low. I know there are limits on the deductibility of interest, but that's an extremely small amount. I have a home mortgage of about $100,000 and I paid more than that last year.

At least the Cheney's filed *jointly*, unlike the Kerry's, who no doubt want to conceal certain uncomfortable facts about Mrs. Kerry's tax situation, which is probably quite favorable given that the IRS taxes income and not wealth.

Reply to Pat Curley re mortgage interest deduction: it's been widely reported that Mr. Kerry borrowed $6 million against one of his homes to lend to his campaign. This constitutes a home equity loan which was not used to acquire or improve his home. A taxpayer whose status is married filing separately can only deduct interest on $50,000 of home equity loans. Presumably the interest deduction of $3,326 is the amount allocable to $50,000; Mr. Kerry obviously paid much more interest in total.

An interesting question is the loan to his campaign, which at some point will be repaid now that his fundraising efforts have been successful. Will it be repaid with interest or will he waive it as a gift to his campaign? If interest is paid to Mr. Kerry, then an argument can be made that the remainder of his home equity loan should be deductible as investment interest expense. Only tax geeks find these discussions interesting, so I'll stop.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Equal time:

» Bush, Cheney, and Kerry Tax Returns from Reagan's Blog
Jack Bogdanski has done analysis on the Bush, Cheney and Kerry tax returns. One thing that is interesting is that Cheney is one rich SOB. I would have expected Kerry to be the richest among the three, but no. I still think Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Ke... [Read More]

» Tax Question (Paging SayUncle) from Les Jones Blog
Jack Bog analyzed Bush and Cheney's tax returns. Now he has an analysis of Kerry's tax return. One item on Kerry's return is from the 2003 sale of a piece of art. It was originally purchased in 1996 for $1... [Read More]

» She links me, she links me not... from Alas, a Blog
Long Story: short pier critiques Paul Erdős. Well, sort of. Not really. Anyway, it's a terrific post, and I've been meaning to link to it for ages now, so you should go read it. Especially if you're interested in gender... [Read More]

» Bush, Cheney, and Kerry Tax Returns from The Blind Scholar
Jack Bogdanski has done analysis on the Bush, Cheney and Kerry tax returns. One thing that is interesting is that Cheney is one rich SOB. I would have expected Kerry to be the richest among the three, but no. I still think Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Ke... [Read More]


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