WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum grew wealthy over his four years working as a corporate consultant and media commentator after leaving the Senate in 2006, his newly released federal tax returns show. He made more than $3.6 million and drove an Audi luxury sedan — details that could be at odds with his effort to attract blue-collar voters in the GOP's upcoming presidential primary in Michigan.
Santorum, 53, has presented himself in the Republican primaries as both a social conservative and a Washington outsider, stressing his family's coal-mining background and his appeal to religious and working-class voters. His personal finances detail the trajectory of a politician who became a millionaire, at times by capitalizing on his Beltway connections.
The former Pennsylvania senator's tax returns, released Wednesday night, show that his annual adjusted gross income surged from nearly $660,000 in 2007 to $1.1 million in 2009 before slipping to $923,000 in 2010.
Santorum's 2008 return includes a filing for depreciation of an Audi A luxury sedan, which he drove more than half of his time as a consultant. A year earlier, his 2007 return shows, Santorum took depreciation on a Chevy Trailblazer.
The German model, which had a $42,000 list price in 2008, might not be an easy fit with the candidate's "Made in America" revitalization plan. Santorum has called for "rebuilding the engine that drove America as a world power." His plan would slash taxes on corporations and aim at bringing back millions of dollars in U.S. investment sent abroad.
The revived auto industry is a prime concern in Michigan, where Santorum aims for a Feb. 28 upset of main rival Mitt Romney. Both Santorum and Romney have criticized the Obama administration's handling of the industry's federal bailout. Santorum said in 2009 that he preferred a "structured bankruptcy." The administration has insisted Detroit's automakers would have gone out of business if they had declared bankruptcy because of the faltering national economy.
A Santorum spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Santorum's returns show that his tax payments rose from $167,000 in 2007 to $310,000 in 2009 and then dropped to $263,000 in 2010. He paid a combined tax rate of about 28 percent over the four years. That puts him in the company of many upper middle-class Americans, but not in the 35 percent bracket of the highest wage earners.
His rivals, Romney and Newt Gingrich, also recently released recent income tax returns. Gingrich paid an estimated 31 percent, according to his federal returns, while Romney paid about 14 percent, a lower rate because many of his earnings came from investments taxed at the capital gains rate.
Santorum has called for an overhaul of the federal tax system that would simplify to two brackets — 10 percent and 28 percent. He has said it would reduce taxes for many Americans, but critics say such a plan would end up aiding wealthy taxpayers more than middle- and low-income earners.
Santorum's wealth doesn't come close to the multimillion-dollar fortune amassed by Romney's high-finance efforts or Gingrich's smaller but still-lucrative blend of foundation and consulting work. But Santorum's newfound affluence reflects his close ties to Washington's business and lobbying circles during his 12 years in the Senate and his smooth transition into their world after he left office.
His 2010 tax returns show he made more than $550,000 in media and consulting fees — paid to him through a corporation he set up, Excelsior LLC. The previous year, Santorum made more than $820,000 in fees, also paid through the same firm.
Last year, Santorum disclosed investment and real estate assets totaling as much as $2.5 million. In his presidential financial disclosure spanning 18 months between 2010 and 2011, Santorum also listed $1.3 million in income as a consultant — much of it coming from media appearances and corporate work on behalf of health care, energy and social conservative interests.
Rising to GOP leadership in the Senate as Republican Conference chairman, Santorum pushed to expand the influence of GOP-leaning business interests. As conference chairman, he headed GOP Senate communications efforts and met regularly with GOP-leaning business and lobbying figures. He raised more than $550,000 from lobbyists during his unsuccessful 2006 Senate re-election campaign.
After his Senate defeat, Santorum did not register as a lobbyist, but he aided corporate and other interests as a consultant. He was paid $142,500 by Consol Energy, a Pennsylvania-based energy firm with numerous Appalachian coal mines. The firm has lobbied against Obama administration efforts to tighten limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
Santorum also was paid $65,000 by the American Continental Group, a D.C. lobbying firm with an assortment of corporate clients, and $125,000 by the Clapham Group, a Virginia firm that aids religious rights organizations. He benefited from media work, earning $230,000 for appearances on Fox News and more than $80,000 for stints as a radio commentator.
Santorum was also paid nearly $400,000 in compensation and stock options as a board director at Universal Health Services, a hospital management firm, after he left the Senate in 2006. He also owns up to $250,000 in Universal stock. As a senator, Santorum had sponsored several unsuccessful bills that would have secured more Medicaid funding for hospitals run by Universal and other medical firms in Puerto Rico.
Santorum owns five rental properties in State College, Pa., worth between $500,000 and $1.25 million, but also with as much as $750,000 in mortgage debt, according to his presidential disclosure. His taxes show that he took mortgage and depreciation deductions on those properties, and also that he sold more than $23,000 worth of stocks in 2010.
Santorum and his wife, Karen, took standard deductions each year for their seven children, the returns show. In 2007, the Santorums took a $4,000 charity deduction for giving away "clothing, footwear, accessories and household items." They live in a four-bedroom northern Virginia house on five acres assessed at $1.4 million in 2010.