Romney Refuses to Release Tax Returns
Three weeks ago, I wrote about the dispute over charges from the Obama Campaign that Romney, while in charge of Bain Capital, was responsible for investing in companies that specialized in outsourcing American jobs. That controversy has turned into something of a “rich guy snowball” for Romney. Romney primary defense to the outsourcing charge is the relevant investments occurred after 1999, when Romney left Bain to organize the 2002 Winter Olympics. Unfortunately for Romney, SEC filings reveal that he continued to be listed on Bain’s SEC filings after 1999. Romney and his campaign have struggled to explain how he could continue be the owner of Bain Capital but bear no responsibility for its investments.
This focus on Romney’s financial history provided an opening for renewed calls for Romney to release more of his tax returns. Romney has remained steadfast that he will not release more than last year and this year’s returns, a position that is coming under increasing criticism from his own party. This lack of disclosure has invited speculation as to just what Romney might be hiding.
There are several reasons why, regardless of what additional facts do or do not emerge, these stories are going to do considerable damage to the Romney campaign. First, as I argued in my earlier piece, stories about Romney ruthlessly doing whatever it takes to make and keep every penny he can just seem true. Even if Romney releases every tax return he’s ever filed and they contain nothing scandalous, and even if he’s able to account for every second between 1999 and 2002 and show that he had no direct involvement in any decision Bain made during that time, these weeks of stories will have nonetheless strengthened the image of Romney as a robotic capitalist doing whatever he can within the limits of the law to maximize income for himself and his investors, changing the lens through which the remainder of the campaign will be viewed.
Second, building off Ben Hoffman’s latest Construction article, what the facts actually are doesn’t always determine what people think the facts are. You may get your news from a source that presents both sides of the story with all the necessary context and qualifications. But imagine how Romney might be perceived by someone who gets his news from a co-worker who heard from his cousin that her hairdresser heard from another customer something about Romney that her friend saw on CNN. It’s easy to imagine polls coming out two months from now that show people believing all kinds of crazy charges about how Romney earned his money and what he did with it.
Finally, the best case scenario for Romney is that he reminds everyone just how out of touch he is with the experiences of the overwhelming majority of Americans. This is a point that has been emphasized to me by a Republican friend who has been bearish on Romney since the ’08 campaign—Romney can’t defend himself on charges involving his business practice or personal finances without reminding everyone of the ridiculous amount of money he has. You can’t say “my Swiss bank accounts are perfectly legal” or “I can’t control the money in my blind trusts” without saying “I have Swiss bank accounts and blind trusts.” Romney’s defense of not releasing his tax returns is another example:
My tax returns that have already been released number into the hundreds of pages. And we will be releasing tax returns for the most current year as soon as those are prepared. They will also number in the hundreds of pages. In the political environment that exists today, the opposition research of the Obama campaign is looking for anything they can use to distract from the failure of the president to reignite our economy. And I’m simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort, and lie about.
The argument Romney wants to make is that there’s nothing in his tax returns that’s unusual or relevant to the campaign, but disclosing them will provide the Obama campaign with more information to twist and distort. What I imagine most people will get from that statement, however, is, “Whose tax returns are hundreds of pages long?!?!”
As we wait for the end game, the question to be answered is just how bad this is going to end up being for Romney. Since all we can do in the meantime is speculate, it seems to me that there must be something worth hiding in Romney’s returns. If the only problem is more offshore tax havens and a low rate, then, sure, that’s more material for the Obama campaign, but could they really make a more devastating attack than this one? Because simply talking about this is bad for Romney’s campaign, he’d be well suited to disclose everything he has to disclose, let it continue to be the big story for another week or so, and move as quickly as possible to focusing on the sluggish growth of the economy.