PolitiFact Delivers a Peculiar Half-Truth

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


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?

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you'll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate