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December 31, 2011 10:00 AM Keeping the focus on Romney’s tax returns

By Steve Benen

Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry expressed some interest in Mitt Romney’s elusive tax returns last week, and the Democratic National Committee is trying to keep the story going this week.

For those who can’t watch clips online, it’s a 40-second video noting that every major Republican presidential candidate in the post-Watergate era — and if we go back a little further, this includes George Romney in 1968 — has released their tax records. Mitt Romney, at least for now, refuses.

In releasing the video, DNC National Press Secretary Melanie Roussell explained the likely rationale for Romney’s reluctance: “It would show that on the millions of dollars in income he enjoys each year, Mitt Romney pays a lower tax rate than teachers, fire fighters, police officers or other middle class wage earners. Mitt Romney will tell you that it’s not required by the law that he release his returns but when he’s advocating for policies that benefit the wealthy and the well-heeled, voters have a right to know what conflicts he might have with his own finances.”

Romney has, in fact, repeatedly told interviewers that he’s not “required by law” to release his returns. That’s true. The problem for Romney, though, is that every nominee from both parties did it anyway, not because it’s mandatory, but because they thought it was the right thing to do.

We can only speculate as to exactly why the former one-term governor is so reluctant, but it’s a pretty safe bet that Romney doesn’t want the public to know he pays a lower tax rate than middle-class workers. Because Romney still collects seven-figure checks from his vulture-capitalist firm, he benefits from the “carried interest” loophole, which taxes private equity and venture capital income at a lower, 15% rate, as compared to 35% on ordinary income.

As we discussed the other day, it creates a dynamic that Romney would prefer to downplay:

1. Mitt Romney is worth $250 million.

2. He got rich by laying off American workers.

3. He pays a lower tax rate than you and the rest of the middle class.

4. He wants to be president so he can keep it this way.

For what it’s worth, some in the media are beginning to find this interesting. (When presidential candidates start hiding things, it’s inevitable that reporters will get at least a little curious.) Yesterday Romney sat down with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and, in response to several questions, said he’d “consider” releasing his tax returns “if I become president.” In other words, after the election Romney might do what every other modern candidate has done before the election.

Whether Romney’s preference for secrecy proves untenable remains to be seen, but my hunch is the longer he drags this out, the bigger the problem will become.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • jlt on December 31, 2011 10:06 AM:

    When you are pretending to be 'middle class' and pay less than 15% taxes on millions in capital gains ..you would not want to release your returns either..Just puts a point on what a hypocrite he is!

    No wonder 70% of the party he wants to lead do not want him! He is not a hold your nose candidate..He would have to raise in the opinions of the voter!

    Do not see the transfer of votes to him from wing nuts either!

  • c u n d gulag on December 31, 2011 10:12 AM:

    Jeez, how stupid is this guy?

    Mitt, don't you know how to play this game?

    Pay off some corrupt accountant, and it's not like there's none of those around in DC, come up with some BS return showing that you're a regular wealthy political schmoe and not some uber-rich vulture capitalist elite, and go merrily on your way.

    99% of the MSM won't know the difference between a real return and a bogus one.

    And you can paint the ones who do as shrill members of the Liberal Lame-stream media elite!

    Mitt, this ain't that tough!

    How the f*ck did you ever become rich without figuring something like this out?

  • DAY on December 31, 2011 10:18 AM:

    Missing from all this is the tithing thing- does he do it every year? On his 1040?
    10%?
    If not, why not? Oh, have we forgotten to mention that he is LDS? A MORMON? Aren't they the folks who wear the special underwear? What is special about it? yadayadayada

  • Brenna on December 31, 2011 10:30 AM:

    Welcome back, Steve.

    I have a hunch this story will have strong legs when/if Romney becomes the nominee. And he will cripple him badly if not destroy his chances.

    If scenario 3 & 4 are true:

    3. He pays a lower tax rate than you and the rest of the middle class.

    4. He wants to be president so he can keep it this way.

    Voters will take out the pitchforks. Like it's been said many times: Americans don't begrudge rich people, but they do begrudge them if they got rich by skewing the rules.

  • Suspicious in Seattle on December 31, 2011 10:34 AM:

    The problem Mr. Romney faces in not releasing his tax returns is that it leaves folks like us to speculate that the REAL reason he is not releasing them is that [insert your favorite theory HERE]

    Mine is that he will release his 2011 return sometime in the spring. His 2010 return will not get released because his accountants spent all of 2010 (and perhaps some of 2011) 'balancing' his portfolio, so that the tax items that might be a problem were eliminated in 2010. Thus, 2011 shows him to be just a normal zillionaire who does not take advantage of carried interest.

  • k l m on December 31, 2011 10:37 AM:

    Willard didn't 'get rich'...he started rich with Daddy's money.

  • Danp on December 31, 2011 10:39 AM:

    I'd be curious if Romney know how much he paid in income taxes. Or what his tax bill would be under the Clinton tax rates. Or how many houses he owns.

  • mellowjohn on December 31, 2011 10:41 AM:

    as nooners says: Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to."

  • dxlh on December 31, 2011 10:42 AM:

    I don't understand this complaint against Romney. Have we seen the tax returns for all of the other GOP candidates? Why are we asking for Romney's at this point? Don't we normally wait until we have a nominee? And I saw him yesterday on TV saying he may release them if he becomes the nominee. It just didn't look like a story at this point.

  • SW on December 31, 2011 10:44 AM:

    I say he is a tax cheat and it is up to him to prove otherwise. That should be the attitude of the press. Until it is, they aren't doing their job.

  • Kathryn on December 31, 2011 10:53 AM:

    Gulag and Suspicious are correct I suspect. Accountants hard at work scrubbing Mitt's returns (ha, ha, ha says Mitt, who doesn't even laugh authentically). Please include birth certificate and grades starting with first grade where, I presume, social awkwardness was first noted.

    Here's a tip Mitt, when playing your guessing nationalities game, surnames that end in vowels are rarely Northern European, ha, ha, ha.

  • Snarki, child of Loki on December 31, 2011 10:59 AM:

    Why, it's just like 2008, with McCain/Palin and their medical records!

    "Okay, MSM, no taking photos or notes, but we'll riffle through the 25000 pages of McCain's medical file across the room from you. No binoculars, dammit!" (can't have the peons find out about the advanced dementia or brain-controller implant)

    And not even *that* from the Palin camp; it would be catastrophic if anyone found out about her teenage abortion(s) or "discrepancies" with the story about "her" "latest" kid.

    If they won't show the documents, they must have something to hide, something poisonous and nasty. So your worst speculation? It's worse than that.

    My bet: Mittens tax returns has child-support and "alimony" payments to extra wives...chip off the old block, that guy.

  • Shelly on December 31, 2011 11:08 AM:

    "You want to see my tax returns? Elect me President and I'll show them to you."

  • &y on December 31, 2011 11:19 AM:

    Someone should publish a speculative version of his return. Define the discussion based on a best-guess, or even a favorable-to-Romney lowball guess. Get out in front, then let him correct the record if he wants to do so.

  • Crusty the Clown on December 31, 2011 11:20 AM:

    Francophile and former Governor of Massachusetts Willard Zombie no doubt has a good reason for hiding his tax returns. Fifteen percent tax rate? Pshaw! After his accountants get through with it I bet he's only paying ten - no, wait, make that five - percent effective rate on his income. Heck, if he hires moonlighting GE accountants he can probably get it down to zero. For all we know he may be getting government subsidies. Now THAT would be a good reason to hide your returns.

  • chi res on December 31, 2011 11:41 AM:

    his accountants spent all of 2010 (and perhaps some of 2011) 'balancing' his portfolio, so that the tax items that might be a problem were eliminated in 2010

    Don't forget, Mitt's been running for Prez for at least five years; he's had plenty of time to get his finances in order. I agree he'll probably release relatively clean (scrubbed) returns at some point when it's more obvious that he's got the nomination.

  • Bj smith on December 31, 2011 12:53 PM:

    He wants to be POTUS so bad, he had best be careful, pick his verifier very carefully to cover up any misinformation that would prove his habit of lying continues to go unchallenged. Good grief! this is just the first state, I'm weary already. We have to find a way to shorten this process.

  • Maritza on December 31, 2011 1:31 PM:

    This inquiry into Romney's tax returns will start to heat up in April the month many people do their taxes. Expect Democrats and Obama to continue to attack Romney on this issue particularly if Obama makes his re-election about tax reform in which he which he propose ending the Romney loophole of "carried interest" and making sure there is the Buffett rule in which millionaires and billionaires will not pay taxes at a lower rate than the middle class.

  • g on December 31, 2011 1:35 PM:

    I'm curious about the nominees' income. Obama, McCain, Bush II, H. Clinton and even Bachmann and Paul - all were/are elected officials pulling down a salary while campaigning, and upon earning the office of President would simply quit their other job and begin earning the salary of their new job.

    Like Dick Cheney and GHWBush, anyone with significant investments put those into trusts while in office. McCain's wealth, I think, was his wife's.

    But now that we learn Romney is still earning income from his retirement deal, and Perry has a sweet retirement deal from the state of Texas. What happens to that if they become President?

    Do they hold down the office of President while still raking in retirement? And in the case of Romney, raking it in from a private company? How's that supposed to work?

  • tko on December 31, 2011 6:12 PM:

    "When presidential candidates start hiding things, its inevitable that reporters will get at least a little curious."

    Sadly, the reporters no longer seem curious about secrecy once the candidate takes the White House. Then no one is supposed to talk about the DHS's swelling budget even though Bin Laden is dead, who the president has authorized to kill with drones (even if they are American citizens) or the war on whistleblowers, lest they be accused of wanting to help the Republicancers. Secrecy is okay when our guy does it.

    If Romnoid, with his missing hard drives and tax returns, makes it into the White House, he will be a natural fit after "the most open administration ever".

  • Fed Up on January 05, 2012 8:57 PM:

    I don't care how much Romney's paid in taxes. I don't care how much anyone pays in taxes.

    I DO care, what his tax RATE has been, over his entire working career. YOU should want to know that as well.

    Mine, when you combine Federal, State, and Local taxes, has been between 29% and 32% annually. That's because I guess I was a fool because I worked hard and punched a time clock all my life.

    What's YOUR tax rate? Do you even know?

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