Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Question of Disclosure

Mitt Romney has been dogged by a few issues over this campaign, but the one that he can't quite put to bed is his refusal to release more than two years of tax returns. And one of those won't show up till a month or two before election day. Is this odd? Well, it's somewhat out of step with decades of precedent, but there's nothing requiring him to do it. However John McCain is the only other major candidate to release less than three years of returns in the last 34 years, so it could be argued that three years of returns is the traditional minimum.

Now do I think this is a huge issue? Initially, I would have said probably not. But the irony here is that the more Romney digs in his heals on the question, the more interested I become. To paraphrase the old saying, me thinks he doth protest too much. After all, the best way to put it all to rest is to just release a couple more years and tell everyone, politely, to take them and shut up. Nothing stokes curiosity like avoidance. It should also be pointed out that Romney has, at many times during his previous Senate and Gubernatorial campaigns, demanded his opponents release returns. In the case of his Gubernatorial opponent, who had released hers, he even made a point about how her husband hadn't released his returns. The big kicker to this though, is that Romney apparently handed over 23 years worth of returns to John McCain when he was being vetted for the VP slot in 2008. (This is where you would insert the joke about McCain looking at them and promptly turning to Sarah Palin.) But of course we have no idea if the returns had any bearing on McCain's decision at all. The only salient point is that Romney wasn't stingy then, yet now, on the public stage he's getting all shy and retiring.

There are all sorts of theories for why he's not releasing them, ranging from them showing he paid no taxes to whether they would show something fraudulent. Personally, I think it's likely that the reason he won't release them is because they show that, through purely legal means, he made massive amounts of money and paid shockingly little in taxes. That's probably the real bombshell here, that the wealthy have so many tricks and loopholes these days that they can get away with paying a comparative pittance in taxes. In this economy, that could strike a very sensitive nerve. If people struggling to make ends meet see an incredibly rich candidate who consistently paid tiny sums while they send out more than they can afford, it could stir up a lot of animosity. Americans are fine with wealthy people, contrary to the blather you sometimes heard around the 'Occupy' protests, but they are not very forgiving of people they feel are gaming the system.

I don't think this issue is going away. First because he's probably the richest major party candidate who's ever run for President and it seems perfectly reasonable for his employers to know something about his finances. Second, because he's dug in his heels and that will only make people more suspicious. It's a question of why not show them if you have nothing to hide? As many prominent Republicans have rightly suggested it's best to get it over with now. If there's something embarrassing there get it out in the open and put it to rest, then he can move on. But if Romney thinks he can just keep laughing mechanically and saying 'no' without consequences, he may find that the question will never disappear and instead will nip at the heels of his campaign all the way to November. And every time he has to deal with the question, it will force him onto the defensive. Not a good place to be when you are trying to unseat an incumbent President.


  1. Actually, Romney's paltry millions is a pittance compared to George Washington's relative wealth. In fact Washington was the most wealthy president by a full magnitude and probably rivals even Ross Perot's billions as a candidate on that all time list. This list of course would exclude JFK, who's millions were shrouded in the form of family trusts and the joint inheritance of family estates. But even JFK would barely make the top five in practical terms.

    I think there are only two groups that are concerned about this issue; journalists and bloggers that need something to write about in a slow election year summer, and the far left extremists that would never consider voting for Romney unless he had the full text of the communist manifesto tattooed on his ass. I could care less about his tax returns, just as I could care less about Obama's Harvard grades or seeing his latest colonoscopy images. But that's just me. I guess everyone has their own comfort level when it comes to peering in the neighbor's windows.

  2. Reply to 'AnonymousAugust 12, 2012 8:32 PM':

    While the George Washington info is interesting, it's a bit off point. Romeny's wealth is not really the point. I have nothing against him being wealthy. Good for him. My point, which you conveniently ignored, was that it's become normal for Presidential candidates to provide some financial background as part of the process of 'applying' to be President. This seems reasonable to me. After all, any candidate, rich or poor, is trying to get hired for the most powerful single office in America. Is a look at their last 5 years or so of tax returns too much to ask? No one is asking for his Swiss bank account numbers or the password to his personal email account.

    In the end, it's Romney's determination not to release them to the public, despite releasing over 20 years worth to the McCain campaign, that has made me, and everyone else, much more interested. All he had to do was release maybe four years worth and within a month the story would have died. instead he releases one and promises one more a few weeks before the election. The only reason to go through this constant defensive battle on the subject is to hide something that would be damaging to the campaign. Hence the swarm of sharks. This is a problem of his own making.

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