By Steven Brill
This is the first entry in a new regular column, "Stories I'd Like To See." It's the notebook of someone who still thinks like an editor but is over the thrill of managing a reporting staff – or the hassle of dealing with “great” story ideas that crash and burn when someone actually goes out and reports them and learns anew that even the best editors can’t hit much better than the best ballplayers (meaning three or four out of ten story ideas will actually work).
1. Mitt the philanthropist:
If the excellent New York Times story last month about Mitt Romney’s Mormon Church involvement is correct, he is required to tithe 10 percent of his income to the Church or church activities each year. This would amount to an enormous amount of money when he was running Bain Capital during its highly-successful years. It might even make him the most charitable person ever to run for President (or be President). Is this true? Or did he tithe 10 percent of his “taxable income,” which would have been a lot less, given all the deductions and favorable tax-rate-treatment available to a high-income private-equity earner?
2. Mitt the taxpayer:
On the other hand, this raises the issue of what percentage of his gross earnings Romney paid in taxes during his best years, or even last year, when presumably all of his earnings were capital gains and might also have been subject to all kinds of investment tax credit and other deductions. I know he hasn’t released his tax returns (yet), but can’t someone get access to Bain’s investor reports and an estimate of his gross income, and then extrapolate that into what he actually might have paid, given favorable tax treatment of capital gains and of carried interest payouts to private equity fund managers? Or, at least, can’t some pesky reporter simply pick Bain’s best two or three years when he was running it and ask Romney what percent of federal income tax he paid on his gross income?
3. Yankees’ empty seats:
During this year’s baseball season, as anyone who watched their games on television could readily see, many of Yankee Stadium’s prime seats, which once carried a price tag of $2,500 per game, went empty. Now, I hear the team is calling around to former box holders offering deals. Is this true? More broadly, three years into its run, how is the new Stadium doing financially? And, how are the Yankees doing financially? Are things being run differently since the death of George Steinbrenner? Can’t somebody find one of the Yankees’ limited partners to spill the beans?
4. Medical insurance trophy:
What’s the most medically-dubious but expensive procedure paid for by Medicare, and who lobbied for it? How much does it cost per year? Which bureaucrats make those decisions and do they go through the usual revolving door in and out of the companies whose products and services they evaluate?