Romney’s elusive net worth calculation

CNN Wire Service

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Exactly how much is Mitt Romney worth? Hard to say.

The estimates, even from the candidate and his own campaign, are all over the map.

Asked point blank on Wednesday during an interview with Univision, Romney described his net worth in very general terms.

“I actually disclosed in a financial disclosure statement all of the assets which I own, and I think the estimate in there was a pretty wide range, it’s been widely reported and my net worth is within that number,” he said. “It’s between $150 and about $200-and-some-odd million dollars, I think that’s what the estimates are.”

Not quite.

Romney’s assets total between $85 and $264 million, according to his official disclosure document filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The range is so wide because, while required to report all assets, candidates characterize those investments and holdings in very broad terms. For example, Romney has a few assets valued between $5 and $25 million.

In light of that, the Romney campaign has offered what it billed as a “more accurate” estimate: $190 to $250 million. While there is some overlap, that’s much more than Romney himself suggested Wednesday.

So he’s rich. We’re just not sure exactly how rich.

The range narrows if you accept the bottom line estimate from the campaign, $190 million, and take Romney’s word that it tops out around “$200-and-some-odd million.”

The media isn’t any better at pinning down a number. In 2008, the Wall Street Journal estimated Romney’s net worth at between $250 and $500 million. In 2007, the New York Times took a stab based on estimates from compensation experts. Their guess: more than $500 million. The same year, Money Magazine said $202 million.

The Romney campaign released more than 500 pages of tax documents on Tuesday, including estimates for 2011. The returns were prepared by accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

A flip through those returns reveals why it might actually be pretty difficult for Romney to accurately estimate his net worth at any given moment.

Romney doesn’t pull down a paycheck every two weeks. Instead, most of his income is derived from investments

He made $42.7 million over the past two years, and took in $21.7 million in long-term capital gains over that time period. Of that, $12.9 million was in so-called carried interest.

Most of Romney’s assets are in a blind trust, a money-management technique commonly used by politicians who would like to avoid conflicts of interest.

Of course, Romney’s trust is not really blind these days. The trust’s assets were listed in his FEC disclosure, and the trustee has even participated in conference calls with reporters.