Ryan family companies hold stakes in energy business interests

August 18, 2012

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and his wife hold stakes in family companies that indirectly benefit from oil and gas tax breaks his budget proposal would retain, his tax returns and financial disclosure statements show.

Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, and his wife, Janna, are part owners of four family companies in her native Oklahoma that lease land or oil, gas, mineral or timber rights.

The Ryans reported taxable income of $20,300 from two of the mineral rights firms last year, a fairly small share of the couple’s adjusted gross income of $323,416 in 2011. According to tax returns released Friday by the Romney-Ryan presidential campaign, the Ryans listed tax losses for the other two firms. Those hold gravel and timber rights.

The Ryans receive no direct benefit from a $40 billion package of tax breaks and subsidies that Ryan has voted to preserve, but the energy companies that pay the family firms for land and resource rights do profit from them.

The Ryans’ share of the four firms at issue is worth a combined $300,000 to $700,000, according to Ryan’s latest congressional financial disclosure statement. The couple own 1 percent to 10 percent of the companies, which are run by Janna Ryan’s father, Oklahoma oil and gas lawyer Daniel Little.

Little did not respond to a telephone message and an ­e-mail from The Washington Post requesting comment Saturday.

Last year, Little told the Daily Beast that the firms were leasing land for mining and drilling to energy firms such as Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy and Exxon Mobil subsidiary XTO Energy.

The four firms are Ava O, which holds mining and mineral rights; Blondie & Brownie, which holds gravel rights; Little Land, which holds mineral rights, real estate and other investments; and Red River Pine, which holds timber rights.

The tax code has many breaks that encourage oil and gas exploration and give energy firms incentives and write-offs. Some breaks date back decades and have persisted through boom-and-bust periods for the energy industry.

Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said Saturday that Ryan wants a simpler tax code across the board.

“Everything should be considered in the context of how to make our tax code fairer and simpler and our businesses more competitive,” Buck said.

President Obama wants to roll back the incentives over 10 years, a proposal that has gone nowhere in Congress. Critics of the oil and gas tax breaks point to esoteric write-offs and record energy profits.

Last year, Ryan voted with all House Republicans and 13 Democrats for a spending bill that protects the benefits. The budget proposal he presented as chairman of the House Budget Committee would also retain those breaks.

The Ryans paid nearly $65,000 in federal taxes last year, for an effective tax rate of 20 percent — a higher rate than Mitt Romney and about on par with that paid by Obama and his wife, Michelle.

Romney paid about $3 million in federal income taxes in 2010 for an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent. For 2011, his campaign estimates. it will rise to 15.4 percent.

Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill, reported paying $87,900 in federal taxes for 2011 on $379,035 in adjusted gross income — a 23.2 percent rate.

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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