Mitt Gets Squeamish about Tithing

Some weeks ago, I suggested one of what I suspect are several reasons why Mitt won’t release his taxes had to do with his Mormon tithe.

Add in the practice–which even an outsider like me saw when I lived in UT and worked for a predominantly Mormon company in the 1990s–of gossip about tithing, notably whether Mormon colleagues tithed pre- or post-tax. That’s another reason why Reid may have a better sense of what Mitt’s tax practices look like than DC pundits might guess on face value.

Finally, though, there’s this. If one of the reasons Mitt is hiding his tax returns does have to do with under-tithing (as the returns Mitt released may suggest), and not just his business practices and tax shelters, remember that both CO (2.15%) and especially NV (over 5%) have larger Mormon populations than average. Nate Silver considers NV the state with the biggest return on investment per voter (CO is 6th). These are lean Democratic states that Mitt might need to win if Obama’s attacks on Bain outsourcing continue to turn the race in the manufacturing swing states (though if Mitt doesn’t win FL and VA, it may be moot anyway). Driving down the Mormon enthusiasm for Mitt might be one way to boost Obama’s chances.

In an interview with Parade Magazine (as reported by the Salt Late City Tribune), Mitt now says tithing is one of the reasons (he calls it a “downside”) he won’t release his tax returns.

Mitt Romney says in a new interview that one of the reasons he’s distressed about disclosing his tax returns is that everyone sees how much money he and his wife, Ann, have donated to the LDS Church, and that’s a number he wants to keep private.

“Our church doesn’t publish how much people have given,” Romney tells Parade magazine in an edition due out Sunday. “This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one’s financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.”

Oh no you don’t, Mitt Romney!

Mitt has repeatedly dodged how low his 13% tax rate is by demanding that people add in his charitable donations, most of which (his partial tax return release so far reveals) consists of donations to his church.

At his news conference, Romney suggested that his charitable contributions should also be taken into account. “Every year, I’ve paid at least 13 percent, and if you add, in addition, the amount that goes to charity, why the number gets well above 20 percent,” Romney said.

…As if 20% is an appropriate tax plus charity for a man worth over a quarter billion in the first place!

But Mitt is basically asking to have it both ways; to plead privacy because his charitable giving is between him and the Mormon Chuch, but at the same time to ask that we consider that charitable giving in the sum of what he has given back to society. Taxes are a public debt. Mitt wants to count his tithe among his public debt (meaning Mitt wants to count, among other things, the millions his Church has spent on denying equality to gays as a public good). But now he wants to point to his tithe to excuse why we can’t know how much he has paid in his public debt.

Too much time as a Private Equity looter has fried Mitt’s brain about what is public and what is private.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

51 replies
  1. rosalind says:

    you left out the best quote!

    “I love tithing,” Ann Romney tells the magazine. “When Mitt and I give that check, I actually cry.” “So do I,” Mitt Romney adds, “but for a different reason.”

    (now to try to find a way to make money off EW’s prognostications…better rate of return than anything the Big Boy Banks can offer)

  2. 1970cs says:

    The $3 million he loaned Adelson(SaharaLLC)is certainly interesting, I guess it just washed up there in LV.

  3. emptywheel says:

    @rosalind: LOL!

    Actually, if Mitt hadn’t said, “One of the downsides”–suggesting there are others–then I’d say he’s lying and I was wrong, only because he’s always lying.

    But given that he suggests there’s multiple reasons I’ll take that tithing is one of them–though we still don’t know how. I think we ought to now assume he found a way to turn donations to support Prop 8 into a tax write off.

  4. Frank33 says:

    Mittens does not have to reveal his sources of wealth. He is an “Insider”, an “equity investor”, and they are special’

    Gawker found some confidential Bain Documents, but there is nothing to see there. Dan Primack, ace reporter for CNN and Fortune, has investigated this story, and the Bain documents are worthless. Just the same as the Financial Looting by Equity Investors in 2008, there is nothing to see here, unless you are an equity geek.

    And the Cayman Islands, there is nothing to see there . It is not a haven for Tax Cheats.

    Let me save you some time: There is nothing in there that will inform your opinion of Mitt Romney…

    I saw many of the exact same documents months ago, after requesting them from a Bain Capital investor. What I quickly learned was that there was little of interest, except perhaps for private equity geeks who want to know exactly how much Bain paid for a particular company back in 2006…

    One private equity fund formation attorney I spoke with says that the Caymans structure usually doesn’t have real tax benefit for the non-U.S. investors, but that they nonetheless feel more comfortable…

    I totally understand why a stack of papers marked “confidential” seems exciting, particularly for those without a deep understanding of private equity.

    Gawker don’t know nothing about nothing. The got no understanding of private equity looting. But Primac has frequently defended Romoney, because Equity Fund Managers do not have to reveal their tax returns. Equity Fund Managers are very misunderstood. Primac is one of the few that believes in our noble political system where corporations are people.

    Equity Manager Insiders are interested in helping people. But there is far too much scutiny. Stop laughing.

    I may be among the last Americans who still believe there is something noble about our political process — that the majority of insiders are still more interested in helping people than in accumulating power for its own sake…

    In general, few private equity executives want to run for office. Too much scrutiny, too little money. But for those who do still harbor such ambitions, I sincerely hope that they direct their energies elsewhere. Their country needs them to.

  5. BSbafflesbrains says:

    Finally a Presidential election where we don’t have to vote between the lesser of two evils. We can vote against the greatest evil without hesitation.

  6. mirele says:

    A couple of things…not necessarily related.

    Mitt Romney is NOT listed as a direct donor to the pro-Proposition 8 campaign that I can see. That does NOT mean he didn’t contribute to the many groups which campaigned on behalf of Prop 8 (e.g., the National Organization for Marriage).

    I would also note that little evidence has surfaced of direct contributions by the LDS Church to the Prop 8 campaign. What happened instead is that bishops and stake presidents shook down wealthy members of their wards and stakes. This happened not just in California. Members here in Arizona were also hit up for donations for the California campaign. (I remember how terribly sick I felt in seeing that some of my neighbors here in Mesa, AZ, had cumulatively gave several hundred thousand dollars to the Prop 8 campaign. It was one of the deciding factors on me resigning my church membership.) Moreover, the church also used its ability to turn people out for walking the precincts in an organized fashion.

    There was one instance where Church money was directly used for Prop 8 activities, and that was for a secret videoconference with certain General Authorities and leaders of the Mormon Prop 8 movement. The church might have had to pay a fine, but I don’t recall if that was the case. But the Utah leadership was very careful in most instances not to expend church monies but instead to tap the membership for donations to the Prop 8 campaign separate from and on top of their regular tithing.

    Which brings me to Mitt’s tithing.

    It would not surprise me to find out that not only did Mitt Romney not pay any taxes, or paid very little tax. This has an impact on his tithing, because of the way he’s got his money distributed and sheltered and otherwise tangled up outside of the public eye. It would not surprise me in the least to learn that Mitt Romney didn’t contribute anywhere near what we would consider 10 percent of either his pre-tax or post-tax income. Yes, I do remember those sayings “do you want gross blessings or net blessings?” when discussing tithing–and you don’t want to hear me rant on how tithing is a regressive tax counter to everything Jesus taught.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @mirele: Thanks for the comment–very helpful. I respect that you left the church over Prop 8. I know it’s not an easy church to leave.

    One thing I’m wondering is if there was a way that people wrote off their donations to Prop 8. That shouldn’t be possible. But a guy like Mitt may have invented a way, don’t you think?

  8. eCAHNomics says:

    You could see this one a light year away.

    If he doesn’t pay taxes he certainly won’t tithe.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The Mittster might be squeamish about talking about his religion outside of Mormon owned resorts and Mormon-led top business and law schools. He might be squeamish about admitting his principle-less leadership and character. He might be squeamish about admitting how little how little he knows about most American lives. A hint, Mitt: Birmingham is not like Detroit; Cranbrook Academy is not part of the Detroit public school system or even as plebeian as Detroit Country Day School.

    What scares the Mittster out of his few wits, though, is admitting in writing how much he’s really worth, how he got it, and what he does on and offshore to keep it all to himself. He considers tithing meeting his tax obligations to his country, which should be an indication that he misreads the Constitution more deeply even than Mr. Obama.

  10. P J Evans says:

    Link for those papers that Gawker found: http://gawker.com/5936394/

    Apparently there’s some really interesting stuff in them. Like some of his IRA investments are in funds that didn’t exist when he was working at Bain; they started afterward, one of them in 2008. So just exactly what was his relationship with Bain in 2008?

  11. mirele says:

    @emptywheel: I’m thinking Mitt’s the kind of guy who would launder a donation through a group like NOM. If he wanted to get really tricksy, he could have donated to the Knights of Columbus.

    But to know for sure, we’d need to see the tax returns. Keep Pushing!

  12. James Conner says:

    Mitt stiffing his church by taking an unauthorized discount on his tith? Makes sense to me. In the final summing-up, a higher power might forgive him, but in the here-and-how, both the LDS money boys in Salt Lake City and true LDS ten-percenters with proletarian incomes might take a dim view of his stinginess and express their opinion at the ballot box.

  13. lefty665 says:

    “This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one’s financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.”

    Mittens could have kept his contributions completely private. It is only when he chooses to use his “charitable contributions” to avoid paying taxes that they become public.

    He did it to save 13%. That’s the story: “What a cheap shit, he trashed his “commitment to our God and to our church” for 13%, and now he’s whining about it.” Time to start laughing at the sob.

  14. Peterr says:

    In his modesty, Mitt is missing a golden opportunity to bear witness to his fellow LDS members about the beauty and wonders of tithing. “Yes, I give a lot, but it’s because God has given a lot to me.”

    Oh, wait. That won’t play well with the whole “I did it myself” message that the GOP is pushing these days. Let me try again.

    “Yes, I’ve done a lot with what God gave me, and as a result, I give a lot to help others.”

    Oh, damn. That still won’t play well, because it implies that individualism ISN’T the way God wants us to live, and God knows *that* won’t play well with the GOP.

    Hmmm . . . I’ll have to think about this some more. I’m sure there’s a very good reason why Mitt shouldn’t share with the LDS faithful his example of faithful living.

  15. Margaret says:

    @lefty665:

    . It is only when he chooses to use his “charitable contributions” to avoid paying taxes that they become public.

    Yep. You can’t suggest that your tithing be figured into your tax rate demand it be kept private Willard. Just sayin’…

  16. bmaz says:

    It is soooooooo Unamerican of Mittens to be so squeamish about titties. Seriously, titties are right there with apple pie and cold beer.

  17. Peterr says:

    @bmaz: And think of how he could inspire the backsliders in the community. “If I can tithe out of all my millions, surely you can tithe out of your hundreds.”

    Oh, wait. . .

  18. lefty665 says:

    @BSbafflesbrains: “Finally a Presidential election where we don’t have to vote between the lesser of two evils. We can vote against the greatest evil without hesitation.”

    Uh Really? We can vote for the not yet the greatest evil, but with aspirations in a second term, and feel good about it? Is that sort of like being Italian rather than German in the 30’s? Here the railroads don’t run on time, but the drones do.

    It can’t happen here, no it can’t happen here. Oops, yes it can.

    Monday locally the FBI and SS hauled an ex Marine, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, off to the looney bin. The judge who ordered his release today said: “The petition is so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy,” http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/news/2012/aug/23/23/judge-says-he-will-order-release-marine-veteran-he-ar-2151347/ Guess he should consider himself lucky they used the judicial system to put him in a psychiatric institution like the Russians used to do. They could just as easily, and just as devoid of facts, have made him a Tuesday Target with no recourse, judicial or otherwise. O signed that into law you know.

    Have you not been paying attention? CHANGE=SAME, except when it’s worse.

    Could I stand to vote for Mittens? Never. Will I “without hesitation” vote for a politician who has spent the last 3 1/2 years carefully positioning himself one grudging half step to the left of the rightest wing dingbat so he can be be the “lesser evil”? Equally never, but I will vote.

    BS most often baffles brains when they’re being used as a hatrack. Please put that plop plop fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is abdication of the obligations of citizenship “vote against the greatest evil without hesitation” BS where the sun don’t shine.

  19. Phil Perspective says:

    @bmaz: Yeah, I don’t get that either. I think, again, Willard is full of shit. The Catholic Church “suggest” you tithe 10%. They don’t enforce it, but I remember a church pastor telling me about it one time.

  20. guest says:

    Has anybody asked the Romneys or the campaign directly if they were involved in any of those amnesties for criminal tax evaders whose names got turned over to the IRS by the Swiss banks and we didn’t have the balls to put them in jail so we settled for a measly 20% penalty? Can they answer even that much under penalty of perjury?

  21. Rayne says:

    Ugh. Feel so out of the loop on this, haven’t been paying as close attention as I should have. Am leaning toward EW’s perspective on this — I’m wondering if Mittens found a way to pull a Cheney, donating something to a charity to relieve his tax burden.

    But whatever this is has to be very bad, so bad that even the GOP would take issue with it. At least Akin-bad. So bad that Mitt’s team hasn’t called Akin to tell him to STFU and sit on his hands because Akin is a much-needed distraction.

    Would making a Cheney-like donation of stock/options/cash to a Prop 8-related entity do it? Nah, that wouldn’t annoy the base or the church. This has to be something that the base would find very offensive. Would pissing off the Mormon church about tithing be enough? Nah, because they surely must see the benefit of having their boy in the White House. Loss of tithes in 2008 would be a worthwhile offset.

    The optics have to be worse than anti-gay or shorting the church’s tithes. I have wondered whether Romney benefited from some aspect of the crash in 2008 and turned that around into a personal benefit, but I can’t formulate an angle without investing beaucoup time. What kind of exposure did Mitt have to economic protections in 2008?

  22. P J Evans says:

    Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who was raised LDS, says Rmoney’s whole line about tithing is a lie. He knows it, everyone else who’s LDS knows it, and he still thinks he can get away with it.

  23. Mugsy says:

    While tithing (or the lack thereof) might play a part in why Romney won’t release his returns, I doubt it makes his Top-3 reasons for not releasing those returns.

    I’ve been following the issue closely on my own blog, and the leading reasons appear to be that:

    1) Mitt is FAR richer than the quarter-Bil he’s claiming. $1-$5 Billion is FAR more likely.

    2) Romney has already conceded paying a ridiculously low 13% tax rate on the vast wealth he already admits to. Remember last year’s “outrage” that “50% of the population pays no [Federal Income] taxes”? How does the GOP continue its “War on Taxes” being “too high” and insisting the wealthy need more tax cuts if it turns out their multi-millionaire presidential candidate paid NOTHING?

    3) Romney probably took advantage of Obama’s 2009 Tax Amnesty program for people with overseas accounts, in order to avoid prosecution. Imagine the response if word got out the GOP nominee for president “is a crook” (again)?

    “Tithing” may be an issue for Romney, but I seriously doubt is a leading reason he won’t reveal his pre-2010 taxes.

  24. dixie blood says:

    Dear MittWitt,

    Redact the amounts you donated to the church (cult) and release your returns. Problem solved. Right?

  25. mmblue says:

    “It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.”

    then please keep it personal rather than state that the separation of church and state has been exaggerated by some

  26. Jim says:

    Catholic priest, er cardinal, a protector of little catholic boys, to speak at the closing, another reason to not attend. Another group of people who request 10%, who helped the foreign powers to attack innocent people, kill in the name of god, protector of the faithful, boy i’m glad for the protection from religion.

  27. Snarki, child of Loki says:

    This is just another of Mitt weaseling out of releasing tax returns.

    How many conservatives will suddenly decide NOT to vote for Romney because, while they knew he was Mormon, the $$$ he gave to The Magic Underware Kult was just *too* much?

    How many Mormons will suddenly decide NOT to vote for Romney because instead of giving 10% off the top to the LDS, he gave 7%?

    No, there are other things in those tax returns that are FAR more damaging than paying 0% income tax, than shortchanging the LDS, than getting an amnesty for Swiss bank accounts.

    A business partnership with the bin Laden family, for example.

  28. Palli Davis Holubar says:

    @Snarki, child of Loki: Bin Laden Family business connections did not seem to hurt the Bush family political success.

    I just wish all Americans would understand that mega greed and grotesque hidden savings are not desirable characteristics for moral citizens, let alone, presidents.

  29. lefty665 says:

    @dixie blood: “Redact the amounts you donated to the church (cult) and release your returns. Problem solved. Right?”

    WRONG!

    Mitt’s donations can be as private as he wants them to be, right up until he wants to use them to avoid paying taxes. When he chooses to do that, he voluntarily discloses the contributions.

    Mitt valued the 13% he saved on taxes more than “It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.” What a cheap shit SOB.

    Every nickel Mittens chisels has to come out of your hide and mine, or be borrowed from the friendly Chinese. Either way the Repubs and some Dems use it as a cudgel to beat up on what’s left of the New Deal.

    Redacting information does not solve the problem even a little bit. It feeds it, both parties, all the time. Get your head up, look around, and don’t give things that can’t stand the light of day a pass to stay hidden.

  30. Sidney18511 says:

    The mittens is pulling at straws. Every mormon knows that lying about their faith to bring in new recruits is A-OK, so his “church” wouldnt be bothered to find out that the romneys ripped them off if that ment that a Mormon would take over the presidency. My guess…Romney was one of more then 30 thousand Americans discovered to be cheating the tax man through Swiss accounts. They were given amnesty, if they paid what they owed. THAT WOULD BE IN HIS TAX RETURNS.

  31. Mittins says:

    I doubt it’s about tithing – its disclosure of his tax fraud related tot he UBS Swiss Bank Account Scandal and his amnesty from criminal prosecution for tax evasion. He would have been forced to amend his 2008 and 2009 returns to show the hidden income, and to pay the tax, interest and penalties. Why he is not being asked about this is beyond me.

  32. E.A. Blair says:

    Paul Ryan vigorously defended replacing Medicare with vouchers until the US Catholic Bishops started riding his ass. I think here we have a shot at the germ of truth behind Romney’s reluctance to disclose – he’s afraid of what his church will find out.

  33. BSbafflesbrains says:

    @lefty665: Suggest you know your enemy before you fire your weapon. At no time did I advocate voting for O; I am voting Stein/Honkala and have converted many to the cause. My point was While O and his record suck Rmoney is clearly the evil one hands down.

  34. John H says:

    I find it interesting how King Willard always talks in approximations, never exact figures. If indeed he paid 13% taxes and his tax plus “donations” adds up to 20% he is probably not donating 10% to the church.

    One reason I want to see the returns is to see how much income he paid 13% on. If he paid 13% on one quarter of his income but had three quarters of his income hidden in tax shelters and tax havens he paid very little tax in reality.

    How much did he take in tax deductions for that horse for his wife as medical expenses? Maybe at one time riding a horse was therapy for Queen Ann’s MS. But having a horse in the Olympics ridden by someone else is not therapy. Is he still claiming medical deductions for the horse?

  35. lefty665 says:

    @BSbafflesbrains:

    Dear BSbb, I’m glad you’ve found an alternative that will not leave you hesitating at the voting machine and holding up everyone else in line.

    “Finally a Presidential election where we don’t have to vote between the lesser of two evils. We can vote against the greatest evil without hesitation.”

    With no other context, in response to a post about Mittens, a contrast between lesser evils, greatest evil, and “finally”, Stein/Honkala is not a reasonable inference.

    You could have voted Green or Independent for quite a few elections. Have all those candidates over all those cycles been somehow “lesser evils”? Remember John Anderson and the Little Jug Eared Martian? Were they “lesser evils”? Lyndon LaRouche was evil, and would have resented being characterized as “lesser”.

    That leads to the question, who is the “greatest evil” you are voting against? You baffled me on your apparent support of O over Mittens. I am baffleder about who you believe is the big kahuna of evil.

  36. lefty665 says:

    @John H:

    “I want to see the returns”

    Here’s a link to the 2010 return he paid 13% on. Have at it. FYI, most of the interesting bits seem to be in the trust returns which individually are shorter than the 1040. The 1040 itself is 203 pages.

    http://www.boston.com/news/politics/2012/president/candidates/romney/romney_tax_return_1040_2011/

    Draft of his 2011 1040 is up too. It’s only about half as long as 2011, it doesn’t include the trust returns, and of course all the numbers are subject to change.

  37. P J Evans says:

    Some of the maneuvers Rmoney pulled with his offshore accounts are almost certainly not legal and he’d have to do some very belated ‘amendments’ to his returns for those years, according to a tax law professor who looked at some of the stuff in Gawker’s document release.

  38. rugger9 says:

    @mirele: #8
    As far as whether the LDS church supported the proposition officially, it’s a distinction without any real difference. FWIW, they made an alliance with the Roman Catholic bishops, and if it is one thing we see from your statement and the reports in general, the words of the leadership, even if it’s “optional”, are to be followed or one risks damnation. Don’t be so sure there’s no fire with the smoke, the investigation has been stonewalled, and I would also point out that the D-Is in the current court case in the trial phase chickened out from backing up their claims in court.

    After all, only the wingnuts carry out political violence, excepting the recent FRC attack on an organization tat advocates murder.

  39. rugger9 says:

    @Mugsy: #29
    I still think it’s the voter fraud / MA governor residency thing, we have only seen the 2010 federal return, not the state one, or any other year’s returns. We also know that he had to retroactively paper over his residency to be MA governor. These latest revelations about Bain tells us more details, but we already knew the basics that Mitt is a crook and a cheat with a huge entitlement streak. Whether the IRS follows up on this is going to be the interesting part, since Bain VIII seems to place Mitt in control until very recently. Not bad for a retroactive retirement in 1999.

    As far as being scared of the LDS, that would assume Mitt has concept of or the ability to feel shame. He has neither, so it’s not a big a deal in my view as the other things noted above.

  40. rugger9 says:

    @lefty665: #43
    As do I, but I would discount the 2011 return until he signs it, after all he’s Governor “Etch-A-Sketch” for a reason.

    We also need to see the state returns to settle the residency issues that keep cropping up.

    FWIW it seems the Bain docs dumped by Gawker are already getting shredded by the NYT of all publications, and it seems there are some hinky reclassifications of ordinary income into capital gains. Wait until Krugman reviews them, it will make his disembowelment and exposure of Niall Ferguson as an economic fraud seem like something joyful out of “Mary Poppins”.

  41. rugger9 says:

    As a side point, exactly what would be Mitt’s liability for unhappy investor/shareholder/former employee litigation if his retroactive retirement is found to be bogus? Does it open him up to paying for all of those closures and excessive management fees while bankrupting otherwise profitable concerns?

    One NOT related to Mitt [as far as I know], but exemplary, was the takeover of Pacific Lumber by Maxxam which then had to clear-cut unsustainably to pay off the leveraging, and made the spotted owl famous.

  42. P J Evans says:

    @rugger9:
    “Ancestry” was looking for bids from ‘private equity’ people, but the bids didn’t make them happy. Either they lost money on their TV shows, or they can’t keep going without sucking in a lot more customers (and they aren’t cheap).

  43. lefty665 says:

    @rugger9:
    “We also need to see the state returns to settle the residency issues that keep cropping up.”

    Heavens to Betsy! Surely you don’t mean that you think comparing Mittens state returns to his claims of primary residence tax deductions to his voter registration might reveal “inconsistencies” aka fraud?

    Could it be the Repubs fear voter fraud because they already know a lot about it first hand (mittten)?

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