The $20 million man: What we can learn from Romney's tax returns

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After stammers and stalls, the Mitt Romney campaign finally released the candidate's tax returns for the past two years which, not surprisingly, show that Romney is really, really wealthy, earning roughly $20 million a year.

Romney's wealth was well-known before he released the documents. But as the NY Times has been combing through the hundreds of pages that were released, they've discovered some facts that shed light on the man behind the money.

As had already been reported, Romney considers the six-figures he earns from speaking fees to be "not very much." His returns show that in 2010, "not very much" translated to $528,871. And speaking of "not much" the Romneys paid their hired help a total of $20,603 in wages in 2010--divided up among four employees. And there are plenty of other interesting tidbits that show the Romneys have paid what they owe, but navigated the system well enough to pay the lowest possible rate on all income they've received (for instance, income Romney still receives from Bain Capital--$5.4 million in 2011--is considered "carried interest" and taxed at a lower rate than standard income).

But, as you've probably heard, the Romneys also donate a good amount of money to charity. In 2010, that included grants from the Romneys' charitable foundation of $145,000 to the Mormon church and $100,000 to the George Bush Library. There were a number of smaller grants too, including $10,000 to Harvard Business School, which makes sense, the Times reports, because the school's alumni "include many of the country's biggest political donors." These aren't exactly charities that care for the least among us.

So what does all of this number crunching mean for Catholics? The way a candidate handles issues like poverty, fair wages, tax laws, and economic justice are all important aspects of making informed voting choices for Catholics, according to the U.S. bishops' document on faithful citizenship. Those who took our recent survey on the policies of the current administration had the same concerns, as even Catholics who strongly disagree with President Obama when it comes to abortion or defense policies still give him credit for showing a real concern for the poor and vulnerable. As anyone familiar with Catholic social teaching knows, these are among the most important issues for the faithful because they directly impact the dignity of all human life.

So with Mitt Romney's vast wealth, will he truly be in touch with the needs of the entire nation he hopes to lead if elected? Or will his policies overlook those at the bottom in favor of those most like Romney himself?

Those are exactly the types of questions Catholic voters need to ask of Romney--and all of the presidential candidates--in the months ahead.