What’s an “ordinary Swiss bank account”?

Carl Levin isn’t buying Romney’s story about the UBS account.

Carl Levin isn’t buying the Romney campaign’s story about the UBS acccount.


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

15 thoughts on “What’s an “ordinary Swiss bank account”?”

  1. Oh well – that settles it. Carl Levin, who knows nothing per se about Mr. Romney’s finances assures us that there cannot possibly be a legitimate reason why an American might have money in such an account (save for perhaps an American living abroad in Switzerland). The fact that Mr. Romney was an investor in various Bain Capital investment funds focused on Europe, which in turn pay out distributions to shareholders in a currency (Euros) that fluctuate in value vs. American dollars, can’t possibly explain why he might want to have an account in which he could park Euros without converting them to dollars at unfavorable exchange rates. Because Carl levin says so. And he’s a disinterested observer.

    P.S. On a scale from 0 to 100%, how confident are you that John Kerry, who I presume that both Mr. Levin and you voted for for President in 2004, doesn;t have any money in Swiss banks? He almost certainly pays a tax rate close to Mr. Romney’s ~15%.

    1. This could be cleared up very easily if Romney would produce his 2009 tax returns. Oh, and BTW, Switzerland does not use the Euro. So try again – maybe you can come up with some bullshit reason why he wanted to hold cash in Swiss francs.

      PS- Kerry! No, Halley’s Comet!

  2. Sorry, the Euro v. dollar fluctuation argument just doesn’t fly. The Euro first came out in electronic “virtual” form at a 1:1 relationship to the dollar. By September of 2003 (after it had been launched in currency format), the ratio had risen to roughly 1:1.1297. (That is, one Euro was equal to 1.1297 dollars.) While it has gone up and down since then, it never again went down that low. In fact, by July 11, 2008, it rose to 1.5887 dollars per Euro. Thus, by that time, at least, it made economic sense to repatriate the assets unless tax questions were factored in.

    Kerry’s returns? According to the National Review online, in 2003, “Kerry reported a total 2003 income of $395,338. His total federal tax bill was $90,575.” That’s 22.91%, See here: http://bit.ly/xdQhRu.
    Of course, Kerry, like John McCain, did not release his wife’s returns which undoubtedly showed taxes paid at a very low rate.

    Please note, however, that the lower dividend and capital gains rates came in with the Bush II tax cuts. The issue that is raised by the returns that Romney has already released is whether it is good tax policy to keep those rates that low. The issue that is raised by the returns that Romney has not released is whether he disclosed the accounts and reported the interest paid on those accounts prior to the FBAR amnesty program in 2009.

    1. Actually, I think Kerry’s wife did release her returns in 2004 and showed a low tax rate. This was the subject of harsh criticism by Republicans.

  3. I would presume that an’ordinary’ Swiss account is one with your name attatched, and reported in your tax filings, but which just happens to be in Switzerland. Why wouldn’t someone with overseas financial dealings have overseas accounts?

    Surely you can come up with better than this?

    1. You apparently miss the point. All foreign accounts over $10,000.00 have to be reported. The income from those accounts is also required to be reported.

      Non-compliance with these rules was rampant. As a consequence, in 2009, the IRS developed an amnesty program, the 2009 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. See here: http://1.usa.gov/AA2tGz. The stated objective of the program was “to bring taxpayers that have used undisclosed foreign accounts and undisclosed foreign entities to avoid or evade tax into compliance with United States tax laws.”

      Why did the IRS believe taxpayers would make disclosure under the program? See Q & A 3 (“Taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts or entities should make a voluntary disclosure because it enables them to become compliant, avoid substantial civil penalties and generally eliminate the risk of criminal prosecution. Making a voluntary disclosure also provides the opportunity to calculate, with a reasonable degree of certainty, the total cost of resolving all offshore tax issues. Taxpayers who do not submit a voluntary disclosure run the risk of detection by the IRS and the imposition of substantial penalties, including the fraud penalty and foreign information return penalties, and an increased risk of criminal prosecution.”)

      Taxpayers were “expected to file correct delinquent or amended tax returns for tax year 2008 back to 2003.” See Q & A 13.

      Finally, take a look at Q & A 14 and 15 for the penalties involved in not making a voluntary disclosure.

      The issue arises in the Romney disclosure context because the oldest return that he has made public was the 2010 return. We cannot determine from his current disclosure whether he was compliant in previous years or whether he availed himself of the benefits of the 2009 amnesty program.

      So the questions that should be put to him are: Did Governor or Mrs. Romney avail themselves of the 2009 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (or any subsequent Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program)? If so, would they be so kind as to make public the disclosures they made and any amended tax returns that were filed as part of the disclosure process?

      1. I think you miss the point; If you obey the reporting rules, a ‘Swiss’ account is no more suspicious than an account in any other country, despit the whole ‘numbered account’ thing of the past that Mark seaks to invoke.

        1. No, I think YOU miss the point, Brett. The IRS developed the amnesty program in 2009, to be applied to taxes from 2008 back. The only taxes that Romney has agreed to release are for 2010 forward. If he and his wife made disclosures under the amnesty program, he has not released that information. The people who were granted amnesty were still committing an illegal act, but the IRS offered to overlook the illegality under the act. The accounts are still highly suspicious.

          Further, we have no idea what the Romneys did or did not have in Swiss banks prior to 2010, so for you to assume that everything was hunky-dory there seems to be speculating on information you can’t know. The Romneys are presumably not releasing their pre-2009 taxes because they contain information that would either a.) paint them in a bad light or b.) overlook illegality through amnesty. But until they’re released, speculation is useless.

          1. Except reasonable grounds for suspicion.

            There was room for chicanery with Swiss accounts before 2009. Romney had Swiss account – ten million dollars was mentioned. Despite having given McCain twenty-some-odd years of returns, he refuses to make public returns prior to 2010.

            If you do a lot of business in Europe you might reasonably want a euro account for convenience and to hedge exchange rate risks. But that’s euros, not Swiss francs, unless you have a lot of Swiss business.

            One possible explanation is that the Romneys kept money there as a hedge against American economic catastrophe, leading to a collapse of the dollar. My understanding is that Mormons are big on disaster preparation, so maybe a Swiss account is a version of that.

            He could clear it up, you know.

          2. Romney has disclosed one year of tax returns (2010), and promised he will release a second (2011). In the 2008 contest Obama released seven years (he has released four more since then), and a half-dozen years seems to be fairly well par for the course. George Romney released a dozen years’ tax returns, and denounced anyone who’d do less.

            Quite simply, there were developments regarding the shielding of income in Caymans and Swiss bank accounts in the late 2000s that mean a 2010 tax return is likely to be less embarrassing than a 2008 return. And, of course, Romney was running for President when his 2010 tax return was prepared (although he’s been running at least since 2006, and was embarrassed by reports about underpaying his state taxes in his 2002 governor’s race).

            Romney claims he’s got nothing to hide, but refuses to show us. It’s incredible that you, who denied the evidence of Obama’s American birth, going so far as to base your denial on the impossibility of proving the existence of a material world, are insisting there’s no reason to ask the questions that a post-amnesty Swiss bank account almost reflexively brings to mind, when such questions could be put to rest by Romney’s adhering to the same standard practiced by his Democratic opponent, by his predecessors as the Republican nominee, and half the standard his own father declared.

          3. Brett,

            You are, as I recall, an engineer. No doubt at some point in your education you had a course in probablility. Do you remember Bayes’ Theorem? Do you think it might be of interest here?

  4. Did Sen. Levin say “Mrs. Romney”? That would (or should) not include Bain or other overseas revenue of her husband.

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