Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says the rate of tax he has been paying is “probably closer to the 15% rate”

Facing renewed pressure to release his tax returns, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has estimated he “probably” pays a rate of about 15%.

The former Massachusetts governor and private equity tycoon said his income came mainly from past investments.

Most Americans would pay a top ordinary income tax rate of 35%.

Mr Romney said in a nationally televised debate on Monday he may release his tax returns in April, but his rivals want him to do so sooner.

He could effectively sew up the Republican presidential nomination long before the spring if his winning streak in the primaries and caucuses continues.

Correspondents say the other candidates – and Democrats – hope to halt Mr Romney’s momentum by portraying him as out of touch with the everyday struggle of ordinary Americans to make ends meet.

He is the favourite to win South Carolina’s primary this Saturday – a state which no Republican has carried in the past three decades without becoming the party’s nominee for the White House.

Income inequality

Mr Romney’s remarks on Tuesday at a campaign stop in Florence, South Carolina, suggest he benefits from advantages for high earners that permit investments to be taxed as capital gains rather than income.

He said to reporters: “What’s the effective rate I’ve been paying? It’s probably closer to the 15% rate than anything.

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Republican hopefuls

  • Mitt Romney: Ex-Massachusetts governor and Mormon; presumed front-runner though doubts remain for some over his conservative credentials
  • Ron Paul: Texas congressman and, at 76, oldest in race. Libertarian-minded, with a band of devoted followers
  • Rick Santorum: Ex-Pennsylvania senator and social conservative. Nearly written off, but saw a surge that helped him come second in Iowa
  • Newt Gingrich: Ex-House of Representatives’ speaker; Briefly led the field, but support collapsed amid a fusillade of attacks ads
  • Rick Perry: Texas governor; once seen as a conservative alternative to Mr Romney, his campaign has been damaged by a series of gaffes

“My last 10 years, I’ve, my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past rather than ordinary income or rather than earned annual income.

“I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away. And then I get speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much.”

The most recent campaign financial disclosures indicate Mr Romney was paid more than $370,000 (£240,000) in 12 months for speeches.

In recent days, fellow presidential contenders have put pressure on Mr Romney to disclose information about his fortune, which Reuters news agency estimates could be as much as $270m.

He was repeatedly pressed on the matter during Monday night’s TV debate in South Carolina.

He said: “If I become our nominee, and what’s happened [with past presidential candidates] is people have released them [tax returns] in about April of the coming year, and that’s probably what I would do.”

Rival contender Newt Gingrich, a former House Speaker, has said he would release his tax returns this week, while another candidate, Texas Governor Rick Perry, has released his each year as governor.

At a press briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney emphasised it was an “established tradition” for presidential candidates to release their tax returns.

The most recent figures available show President Barack Obama paid a federal tax rate of just over 26% on his 2010 returns.

The issue of tax breaks for the financial elite has been highlighted by the White House – as well as campaign groups such as Occupy Wall Street – in recent weeks.

President Obama has proposed a rise in taxes for wealthy Americans, which has been vehemently opposed by Republicans.

The plan was named the Buffett rule, after investment guru Warren Buffett, who famously complained that his effective tax rate was lower than his secretary’s.

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US Presidential Election 2012