The left and the right don’t agree on much, but increasingly they agree on one thing: Mitt Romney is completely failing to address public concerns that he may have a shady personal and professional history of tax avoidance. (Romney refuses to release more than his returns from 2010 and 2011.) Liberals and conservatives have different reasons for taking this view.
Liberals believe that Romney’s established history of using foreign bank accounts to shelter money and bet against the dollar, as well as his bizarre history of being paid by Bain Capital long after he supposedly stopped working there, raises valid questions about Romney’s values and potential conflicts of interest. Therefore, the public has a right to know what else is in Romney’s financial history. How much lower has his tax rate been than of the average working stiff? How much does he give to charity? How did he amass a preposterously large IRA?
Conservatives, on the other hand, are mostly just concerned that Romney is making a political error. He already is perceived by much of the public as an out-of-touch fatcat. Every day Romney is forced to play defense on his secretiveness is a day he spends reminding people that he is far richer than they are and still pays a lower tax rate, since his income is mostly capital gains. He, and his supporters, would rather he was talking about the high rate of unemployment. If Romney is going to ultimately cave on his taxes anyway, he would do better to get them out now, while swing voters are not yet paying close attention to the campaign, than in September or October.
Presidential candidates always release several years of tax returns. Romney’s father George set the modern precedent, with twelve years, in 1968. On Thursday morning ABC’s Robin Roberts asked Ann Romney—noting that Obama released seven years of returns and both Bushes at least ten—why her husband won’t follow the bipartisan tradition. Romney offered at first the completely irrelevant talking point that they tithe to their church and that Mitt chose to forgo a salary as governor of Massachusetts. When pressed by Curry, she admitted that they fear there will be fodder for attacks in their tax history.
Romney’s own personal history on the subject is mixed. He never released any returns in his previous campaigns. Bain sources told the Huffington Post that he did not think he would have to in a presidential run and wouldn’t have run for president if he thought he would.
It’s unclear why he is so afraid, since he gave twenty-three years of returns to the McCain campaign when he was being vetted for vice president. McCain says there was nothing in Romey’s taxes that disqualified him from being chosen as running mate. On the other hand, as TPM’s Brian Beutler points out, former top McCain advisor Steve Schmidt said on MSNBC that it is not worth the cost to Romney to give up the returns. Schmidt, of course, would know better than anyone else what was in them.