January 17, 2012

Under pressure from opponents, Mitt Romney says he'll release his tax returns in April. Maybe. Or not. Because really and truly, he feels like he's disclosed enough about his finances. Except that in a time where one of the key points of disagreement with Republicans is over taxes paid by high-earning taxpayers like Romney, it's relevant to the debate.

Could we possibly trust someone with tax policy who currently benefits from it as it stands? That's the key question, and one Mitt Romney is unwilling to answer, despite using tax returns as a campaign wedge when he ran against Ted Kennedy.

Romney rather proudly says he's released his financial disclosures and owes no other. But every President and Vice President in recent history has released their tax returns. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have released ten years' worth. Bush and Cheney released tax returns beginning with the year 2000.

Here's the problem. It's entirely likely that Mitt Romney's tax rate is far lower than most people's. It's likely he is a poster child for the "Buffett Rule", because most of his income is likely to be passive income like dividends and capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate than earned income. To further complicate things, it's appears that he's parked much of his wealth offshore in order to avoid taxes entirely.

From the January 12th broadcast of Countdown, David Shuster reports:

You see, we've actually looked at the financial disclosure forms that you, and all candidates, are required to file. And in your case, the disclosure forms reveal that you and your wife have millions of dollars in offshore accounts. Your offshore funds are in the Cayman Islands and other places that give huge tax advantages to investors.

I appreciate the statement by your campaign that "the Romney's have paid taxes on all income, including offshore investments." However, the tax rates and income levels are not specified in the disclosure forms.

If Romney runs true to form, he won't release any tax returns whatsoever. And if that is the case, he should be given no quarter when it comes to tax policy. Anything that comes out of his mouth should be assumed to be only for the benefit of the 1 percent, and not the rest of us.

If he does deign to release returns, you can bet on the fact that he will release sanitized versions of his 2011 returns without any from 2010, when he first declared his candidacy. We can't have the unwashed masses privy to the workings of Mitt Romney's finances, after all. That's something for quiet rooms.

Full transcript below the fold.

Update: Today, Mr. Romney admits his effective tax rate is 15%, less than most people pay.

EVANS: Governor Romney, Speaker Gingrich, Senator Santorum and now vocally tonight Senator Perry — Governor Perry — are calling for you to release your tax records. The Obama campaign is asking for the same thing. Governor, will you release your income tax records?

ROMNEY: You know, I looked at what has been done in campaigns in the past with Senator McCain and President George W. Bush and others. They have tended to release tax records in April or tax season. I hadn’t planned on releasing tax records because the law requires us to release all of our assets, all the things we own. That I have already released. It’s a pretty full disclosure. But, you know, if that’s been the tradition and I’m not opposed to doing that, time will tell. But I anticipate that most likely I am going to get asked to do that around the April time period and I’ll keep that open.

EVANS: Governor, you will plan then to release your income tax records around April?
ROMNEY: I think I’ve heard enough from folks saying, look, let’s see your tax records. I have nothing in them that suggests there’s any problem and I’m happy to do so. I sort of feel like we are showing a lot of exposure at this point. And if I become our nominee, and what’s happened in history is people have released them in about April of the coming year and that’s probably what I would do.

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