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Aug 24 2012

Mitt Romney’s tax returns

While Mitt Romney’s tax returns have faded from the news for the moment, you can be sure that they will re-emerge as an issue. The Obama campaign had been hitting Romney hard on taxes with ads such as this one.

The ads were clearly having an effect with Romneys having to proffer increasingly weird reasons for not releasing them such as the Obama campaign will nitpick them or that the Mormon church does not like the tithing figures made public. Mitt Romney event went so far as to call for a truce on the taxes issue, a clear sign of weakness that will guarantee that it will re-emerge soon.

The fuss over him not releasing his tax returns gets weirder and weirder. The fault of course, is entirely his. If he had taken a principled stand and said that he disapproves of the whole practice of candidates having to expose their private lives, that might have been defensible. But he has released his 2010 returns and promised to release his 2011 returns when they are ready. He has to file them by October 15, 2012 just three weeks before the election. He also reportedly gave the John McCain campaign many years of tax returns when he was auditioning to be vice president in 2008.

His obstinate refusal to release them, even despite calls to do so from fellow Republicans and Mormons, clearly raises deep suspicions that he has something to hide.

The longer this drags on, the worse it will be for him since he will be constantly on the defensive talking about it and that is something you don’t want to happen when you are the challenger. What makes it harder is that his campaign has so far consisted of broad generalities and the avoidance of any concrete proposals, hoping to keep the focus on Obama. Instead it has largely been about his wealth and taxes.

Of course, he longer he waits, the harder it will be to do so without giving he impression of weakness and caving in to opponents. I can’t imagine that he did not foresee this, so the decision to hunker down and not release them must mean that he think it will be damaging. Some are suggesting that it contains information that would be fatal to his candidacy and that he had decided long ago that he would not release them.

The most common speculation is that his returns would show that he took advantage of all manner of tax shelters and loopholes to pay taxes at a very low rate, even lower than the measly 13.9% he paid in the one year for which we have returns, or even none at all. Romney has denied this and given verbal assurances that he paid at least around 13% but we are supposed to take his word for it. Others have suggested that the problem with the tax returns may not have anything at all to do with the rate he paid but with what address he claimed as his residence, which may have constituted voter fraud.

Romney has tried to make tax avoidance a badge of honor by saying that he paid all the taxes that were legally required and that it would reflect badly on him if he did not exploit every loophole. I am not sure if voters will buy that. Digby suggests that since he has known that he would run for president since at least 2006 or so, the fact that he chose to keep all those shelters means that he values money even over running for president.

Matt Taibbi says that the current debate over Romney’s taxes is missing an important point about how income is classified that makes real be taxed at a higher rate than unearned income. “The Romney tax returns are a prime example of our increasingly two-tiered bureaucratic system, in which there is one set of rules for poor and middle-class people, and another set of rules for people like Mitt Romney.” Cartoonist Ruben Bolling gives us a look at the special tax form VRG-EZ that only Very Rich Guys are allowed to file.

As Tbogg says, Romney’s tax dance is just one part of the picture, which is that Romney is an extremely poor candidate.

Republicans have to be in a panic (see above). They haven’t even nominated their guy, they don’t trust him, he’s a terrible campaigner, his wife may be worse, everyone hates him, his campaign staff is a clown car chock full o’ bumblers, stumblers and maladroits, his foreign tour was a disaster, the media (which he ignores) is growing to loathe him more than the general public does, and the Republican convention is only four weeks away at which time Republicans are expected to formally tie the knot with him despite the fact that his unreleased tax returns are undoubtedly a ticking time bomb loaded with tax avoidance maneuvers, overseas accounts, and financial 3-card montes.

Given that the fundamentals of the economy are such that Obama should be losing handily, the fact that this race is so close is a symptom of Romney’s weakness as the Republican nominee.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    Vincenzo

    Minor typo: the deadline for filing is is October 15, 2012 (not 2011).

  2. 2
    Alverant

    It’s also worth noting that on the Dispatches blog Ed mentioned that Romney retroactively changed his tax returns so he could run for gov of Mass. Who knows what else got changed retroactively. So again we have a case where a conservative is trying to rewrite history.

  3. 3
    Mano Singham

    Thanks! Corrected.

  4. 4
    DGarr

    Release the tax returns, Mr. Romney.
    Now.

  5. 5
    baal

    I keep wondering (on no basis whatsoever) if the Real-Reason(TM) is that he doesn’t want the Mormon Church to know that he didn’t actually tithe his 10% of gross as they demand. Of course, I might have list of other baseless speculations that could be put to rest by him releasing say 5 years of returns.

  6. 6
    Physicalist

    Maybe, but — again — what boggles the mind is that he’s been running for president for six years. You’d think it would be a no-brainer for him to clean up any story told by his taxes even earlier, when running for governor.

    He should have ten years of sanitized tax returns to offer. If he was worried about the LDS church, you’d think he’d have played by the rules for the last decade, even if he didn’t before.

    This guy thinks the usual rules of running for office don’t apply to him. Hope it doesn’t turn out that he’s right.

  7. 7
    Jordan Genso

    I think that Mitt Romney’s taxes are relevant because the TEA Party made them so. There is a segment of the population that loves to proclaim that the wealthy are “Taxed Enough Already”. And they then use that statement as justification for their opposition to any tax increases on the wealthy.

    So the TEA Party Republicans have made this an issue by taking that position. Most rational people aren’t going to take their word that the wealthy are “Taxed Enough Already”, when there is a wealthy individual running for President, and whose single year of tax returns that we have seen show that he pays a lower tax rate than most middle class families. Furthermore, the only tax return we’ve seen also shows that if Paul Ryan’s budget had been enacted, Mitt Romney would be paying a tax rate below 1%.

    If one side wants to claim that Mitt Romney is “Taxed Enough Already”, then let’s look at how he is taxed, and we can have that discussion. But they can’t claim that Mitt Romney is “Taxed Enough Already” while simultaneously saying that how much he pays in taxes is none of our business.

  8. 8
    Jared A

    I doubt that Romney is worried about upsetting his friends in the LDS church hierarchy by releasing his returns. The upper echelon is an old boys club and they are doubtless aware of the standard practices of their in-crowd.

  9. 9
    Morejello

    I doubt that the reason he’s not releasing them is because he doesn’t want the church to know he didn’t give his full 10%.
    First, no mormon on the planet gives a full 10 percent. If you think that people like to weasel out of taxes, you’ve never seen how tight-fisted most mormons can be. Yeah, they give what they can get away with. But it’s nowhere near 10 percent.
    Second, if the church was upset at Romney about how much he’s given, it would NEVER EVER become public. There would be some very stern and very quiet talk behind closed doors, some things would happen out of sight, and everyone would have huge smiles and be bestest friends in public. If there’s one thing that the LDS church craves more than money, it’s a positive public image. Public infighting is simply not tolerated.
    I’ve lived in mormon dominated southeast Idaho for my whole life, and I’ve seen my share of mormon vs. non-mormon conflict. But never once have I seen a mormon fighting in public against the church, or the church denouncing one of their own.

  10. 10
    Jared A

    Unless, of course, they are dissidents, in which case they must be crushed mercilessly

  11. 11
    smrnda

    With the whole TEA = taxed enough already, this seems a bit ridiculous when taxes are actually rather low right now. It’s more a belief that any amount of taxation is too much, or the belief in a ‘flat tax’ which really is just a tax break for the wealthy, or a plan to starve the government for revenue so that the only function it will be able to serve is to protect the property of the wealthy.

    Either way, not revealing it looks bad, and the other problem is that even if Romney reveals his tax returns, given the delay people may think that he’s tried to alter them or that he used some dishonest trick in the past to avoid paying more.

    I’m not sure how tight a ship the Mormon church runs on this, but I suspect that, like the government, they are only vicious about getting money from the little people. I heard from a Mormon that if you have financial difficulty and go to the church for help, they scrutinize whether you deserve it based on whether or not you’ve given them your 10%. Seems like a way to make sure you never have to pay out but can keep collecting.

  12. 12
    DGarr

    What is the only issue for which Mr. Romney has not flip-flopped? He stands firm on not releasing his tax returns. Why so firm on this issue?

    Mr. Romney is running for President of the United States.
    This is a position of Trust.
    Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but Verify.”
    Mr. Romney has said, “Trust me,” re his tax returns.
    It is not unreasonable for voters to want to “Verify.

    It is not just liberals who want to see Romney’s tax returns.
    It is 63% of American voters who do.

    The longer Mr. Romney delays, the more suspicious it appears.

    Obama released 8 years of tax returns
    GW Bush 10 years
    Clinton 12 years
    GHW Bush 14 years
    George Romney 12 years.

    What is the problem, Mr. Romney? Release your tax returns.

  1. 13
    I TOTALLY MISSED THIS ANGLE… | Have Coffee Will Write

    [...] Thank you Mano Singham… [...]

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