PolitiFact Delivers a Peculiar Half-Truth

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A new ad from the Obama campaign makes the following claim: “Mitt Romney made $20 million in 2010, but paid only 14 percent in taxes — probably less than you.” Is this true? PolitiFact comes to the following odd conclusion:

There are two main ways to make this calculation, and they lead to opposite conclusions. While we believe that including payroll taxes in the calculation offers a more accurate picture of what the American public pays the IRS, it’s also true that the Obama ad didn’t specify which measurement it was using, and in fact used a figure for Romney  14 percent  that was based on income taxes alone. On balance, then, we rate the claim Half True.

If it were true that the Obama campaign used one number for Romney — federal income taxes paid — and used a different number for everyone else — income taxes plus payroll taxes — PolitiFact would have a point. But what makes them think this is what the Obama campaign did? According to his most recent tax return, Romney paid 13.89% in federal income taxes. If you add in the payroll taxes he paid, that number probably rises to about 13.95%. In other words, 14%, which is the number the Obama campaign used. And as PolitiFact itself concludes, that’s less than most taxpayers pay in total federal taxes.

So why does PolitiFact claim that Obama used two different tax calculations? I don’t think he did, and if PolitiFact agrees that including payroll taxes offers a better picture of total federal tax liability — as they say they do — then Obama’s ad is 100% defensible and accurate. Am I missing something here?

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