WASHINGTON Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, gave about 30 percent of their $13.7 million in 2011 income to charity, but did not take the full write-off, making their effective tax rate higher.
The move, which was contained in Romney's 2011 tax return released on Friday, was described by tax experts as unusual and by the top Senate Democrat as manipulation of the tax code.
"I was in private practice for 40 years and don't know that I ever had a client who said, 'I don't want to take all my deductions,'" said David Kautter of American University's Kogod Tax Center, who spent his career at accounting giant Ernst & Young.
Kautter estimated that if Romney had taken the full charitable tax break, his effective tax rate would have been about 10.5 percent. The return showed Romney paid an effective rate of 14.1 percent last year.
During a Republican presidential debate in January, Romney said, "I don't think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes."
The Romneys reported about $4 million in charitable donations, including at least $1.1 million given to the Mormon Church to which they belong. Mormons typically "tithe" 10 percent of their income to the church.
Romney attorney Brad Malt said the Romneys took a deduction of only about $2.25 million. He said the move was meant to keep their effective tax rate above a 13 percent minimum level that Romney said recently his rate had stayed above for 10 years.
"The Romneys thus limited their deduction of charitable contributions to conform to the governor's statement in August," Malt said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has questioned whether Romney paid taxes in some years, criticized the move.
"The information released today reveals that Mitt Romney manipulated one of the only two years of tax returns he's seen fit to show the American people - and then only to ‘conform' with his public statements," the Democrat said in a statement.
Romney has been under fire to release more than two years of tax returns. He released his 2010 returns in January along with a draft of his 2011 tax record.
The former Massachusetts governor and co-founder of private equity firm Bain Capital said in January he estimated his 2011 income at about $20.9 million. He revised that down to $13.7 million in the filing released on Friday.
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, reported earning about $789,674 in income in 2011, and gave about $172,130 to charity, or about 22 percent, according to filings.
The Obama's largest contribution was to the Fisher House Foundation, which provides housing for war veterans.
(Additional reporting Patrick Temple-West and Nanette Byrnes; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)