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So Mitt Romney had a Swiss bank account. Big deal!
That's the argument Republican pundit Mary Matalin deployed about Romney’s finances on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
Responding to comments from fellow panelist George F. Will that Romney needed to be more forthcoming about his finances, Matalin said, "With deference and respect to my esteemed colleague here, people don't care where his bank accounts are. They care that they don't have much left in their bank accounts. ...
"They don't care about his taxes. They care about their own taxes," she continued. "He's released 2010. He's releasing 2011. He has full disclosure.
"There's no tax advantages to being offshore," she said. "Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the handpicked Democratic chairman by Barack Obama, has these offshore accounts."
The mention of Wasserman Schultz -- the head of the Democratic National Committee and one of Florida’s more high-profile members of Congress -- caught our attention. Does Wasserman Schultz have offshore accounts similar to Romney’s?
Before Romney became governor of Massachusetts in 2003, he had a long career managing Bain Capital, a private equity investment firm, and that work made him wealthy. We fact-checked whether Romney had a Swiss bank account and found that accurate.
The trustee for the Romney family’s investments -- Brad Malt of the law firm Ropes & Gray -- set up the account in 2003. There were no tax advantages to holding the Swiss account, said Malt in a conference call with reporters in January 2012, when the campaign released Mitt and Ann Romney’s 2010 tax returns.
The account contained approximately $3 million, and it was held by Union Bank Switzerland, or UBS.
"The tax is fully paid, just as if this were a U.S. bank account, nothing more complicated than that," Malt said then. And in our review, we found nothing to indicate Romney did anything illegal or improper with the account, just as Matalin said.
Now, let’s look at Wasserman Schultz’s finances. As we researched, we found similar claims about Wasserman Schultz and offshore accounts that pointed back to the conservative magazine and website the Weekly Standard.
The Weekly Standard combed through Wasserman Schultz’s financial disclosures, which are required from all members of Congress. It found several 401(k) funds listed there, then cross-referenced the funds with their published holdings.
The Davis Financial Fund "is invested in the Julius Baer Group Ltd. and the State Bank of India GDR Ltd., as well as other financial, insurance, bank institutions," the Weekly Standard noted. Julius Baer is a Swiss private banking group.
We went through the disclosure statements and found what the Weekly Standard described.
To refresh your memory on 401(k) funds: They’re retirement savings accounts where workers can sock away money and defer paying taxes on it. Money managers then invest the savings in all sorts of ways, both in the U.S. and abroad.
In some ways, the Weekly Standard’s point is fair and relevant: It’s a global economy, and many Americans have investments overseas through their own 401(k)s and pension funds. Some of the attacks on Romney suggest that his Swiss account had some nefarious function, and we haven’t seen any evidence to support that.
Matalin sent us this statement, emailed from a spokesperson, that reiterated that point: "The attack from Obama wasn't about the size of the account but the very existence of it. There is nothing illegal or unique about these accounts. My response was two-fold: Obama is a hypocrite since his own appointees have the same arrangements and using a distraction tactic because he can't run on his record."
Still, with all due respect to the globally interconnected economy, Wasserman Schultz’s "offshore accounts" have little in common with Romney’s.
For one thing, the amounts of money in the accounts are of staggeringly different size. Wasserman Schultz’s 401(k) fund had less than $15,000. Romney had up to $3 million.
Wasserman Schultz’s money was in a 401(k) account, the Davis Financial Fund, which is based in Massachusetts. It was purchased April 15, 2010, and sold on April 23, 2010. So it wasn’t held for very long.
Romney’s money was in a cash savings account held from 2003 to 2010, according to his attorney.
After hearing Matalin’s comments, we also wondered whether Wasserman Schultz and Romney are in the same league financially. They’re not.
Wasserman Schultz’s net worth -- all her assets minus all her liabilities -- was somewhere between $235,000 and negative $290,000 in 2010, according to the most recent disclosure.
In fact, Wasserman Schultz was one of the least wealthy members of Congress that year. The Center for Responsive Politics ranked her at No. 422 out of 440 House members. (The list is slightly larger than 435 seats in the House due to special elections.)
Romney’s wealth, on the other hand, is somewhere between $85 million and $264 million. The Romney campaign told the Washington Post that a more accurate range would be between $190 million and $250 million.
Matalin said that Romney might have offshore accounts, but so do others. "Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the handpicked Democratic chairman by Barack Obama, has these offshore accounts," she said.
Actually, Wasserman Schultz had a 401(k) account of less than $15,000, managed by an American company, that included some foreign investments. Romney’s account was a savings account of approximately $3 million held by a Swiss bank.
Matalin does have a point that Romney’s account was entirely legal and he paid taxes on the earnings. It’s also true that many Americans have foreign investments through 401(k)s and pension funds.
But Wasserman Schultz’s investments are not similar to Romney’s, neither in size nor in type.
We rate Matalin’s claim Mostly False.
This Week with George Stephanopoulos, transcript, July 15, 2012, accessed via Nexis
Center for Responsive Politics, financial disclosure of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, 2010
Center for Responsive Politics, personal finance disclosures of the presidential candidates, 2010
Center for Responsive Politics, ranking of the wealth of the U.S. House of Representatives (poorest), 2010
The Weekly Standard, Dem. Chair Invested in Swiss Banks, Foreign Drug Companies, and the State Bank of India, July 10, 2012
Fox News, Double Standard?: DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz Invested in Swiss Bank Accounts, But Slammed Romney For Same Thing, July 11, 2012
The Washington Post, Romney worth up to $264 million; earned up to $68,000 per speech before campaign, Aug. 12, 2011
The Palm Beach Post, Wasserman Schultz rejects comparison to Romney on releasing tax returns, July 15, 2012
Email interview with Elizabeth Brown, spokesperson for Mary Matalin, July 17, 2012
Interview with Jonathan Beeton of the Democratic National Committee, July 16, 2012
Interview with Davis Funds spokesperson, July 17, 2012
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