As a rule, family members of candidates shouldn’t be considered political players, but once those family members become campaign surrogates and enter the political sphere making partisan arguments, there’s nothing inappropriate about scrutinizing their comments.
Take Ann Romney’s latest defense of her husband’s secrecy, for example.
Ann Romney sat down with NBC’s Natalie Morales and when the subject turned to the still-hidden tax returns, the Republican became quite agitated. Romney insisted that her husband’s campaign has done “what’s legally required of us,” which is true, but fails to meet accepted norms, standards, and expectations.
She added, “There’s going to be no more tax releases given.” I assume that means outside of the 2011 returns Mitt Romney has promised to release, but has not yet disclosed, though Ann Romney didn’t elaborate.
She went on to say, “There’s nothing we’re hiding.” Except the tax returns, the tax rates paid, and the explanation for the Swiss bank account, the shell corporation in Bermuda, and the cash in the Cayman Islands. Other than hiding all of that, they’re not hiding anything.
And why will the Romneys refuse all additional calls for disclosure, even from Republicans? According to Ann Romney, it’s because Democrats might use the materials to make Mitt Romney look bad.
I continue to marvel at this deeply odd argument. As Dahlia Lithwick and Raymond Vasvari recently explained, “[Romney] isn’t actually claiming that his opponents will lie. He’s claiming he’s entitled to hide the truth because it could be used against him…. These are tax returns. Factual documents. No different than, say, a birth certificate. But the GOP’s argument that inconvenient facts can be withheld from public scrutiny simply because they can be used for mean purposes is a radical idea in a democracy.”
And yet, this radical idea is now the Romneys’ only talking point on the issue.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 15, 2012
Mitt Romney has a problem. And it isn’t his campaign strategy or strategists. It isn’t President Obama’s campaign strategy or strategists. Mitt Romney’s problem is Mitt Romney.
The current rash of polls clearly show that with more exposure, more time on the campaign trail, more time traveling abroad to “highlight” his foreign policy credentials, and the more he hides his tax returns, the worse Romney does with voters.
While President Barack Obama’s blackboard is pretty much completely written on, Romney’s blackboard is getting filled with information about the former Massachusetts governor that is hurting him, especially among independents. Sure, some of it is due to Obama ads and the national dialogue, but most of it is due to Romney himself.
This is all about who Mitt Romney really is; this is about his background, his judgment.
Both the new CNN and Fox polls show the public is beginning to get Romney’s number. Over the summer, his favorable rating dropped six points to 48 percent; his negative has risen five points. It is worse with independents, with favorable ratings dropping eight points. These numbers are according to Fox, which has Obama leading Romney by 49-40 percent.
CNN has Obama leading by 52-45 percent, with similar drops in Romney’s favorable and increases in his unfavorable ratings. With the crucial swing voters who identify themselves as independents, Romney has seen his unfavorable go from 40 percent to 52 percent.
The key question asked by CNN was whether or not Romney favors the rich over the middle class. Basically, two thirds of all Americans see Romney as a creature of the super wealthy who fights for the super wealthy. Now, 64 percent of all Americans believe Romney favors the rich over the middle class and 68 percent of independents have that belief. Even 67 percent of independents say he should release more tax returns.
Bottom line: Voters are not comfortable with who Mitt Romney is. They weren’t comfortable during the primaries and they aren’t comfortable now. The more they learn about Mitt Romney, the less they like him.
Do they believe he changes his positions on key issues on a dime to get elected? Sure. Do they believe he has a tin ear and can’t seem to get it right, as with his foreign travels or liking to “fire people?” Sure. Do they feel nervous about his time at Bain Capital, his foreign bank accounts, and shell corporations? Absolutely.
Fundamentally, this is personal. They know that Romney has worked the system to his advantage, paid little or no taxes, hidden his operations behind a phalanx of accountants and lawyers. He might even get away with being a “master of the universe” if he supported policies that helped the middle class. He might be able to convince voters that he cared about them if he denounced loopholes like Swiss bank accounts, Bermuda dummy corporations, even something as fundamental to his wealth as the carried interest deduction. “Yes, I took advantage of things that were legal, but I am going to close these loopholes when I am president.”
But Mitt Romney stays with his fundamental belief system—stays with policies that give even more tax breaks to the super wealthy and leave the middle class paying the bill. This may be his Bain background, it may be what he really believes, but it is not what the American people believe or need right now when they are hurting. This is back to the future economics and it shows a lack of sensitivity to middle class families.
After all the ads, after all the polls, after all the back and forth, Mitt Romney is still Mitt Romney. And that dog won’t hunt.
By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, August 10, 2012
Mitt Romney’s campaign is taking heat for declining to disclose more than the two most recent years’ worth of his tax information. Even conservative commentators such as The Washington Post’s George Will and the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol are saying it’s past time to come clean. Of course, members of Romney’s team, unlike their friends on the outside, presumably know what the documents would reveal, so we should probably assume that they have fairly good reason not to release them. Could the criticism Romney would suffer over the contents of the returns be worse than the criticism he’s getting for not disclosing them? Here are some guesses about legal — but potentially embarrassing — things in Romney’s tax returns:
Profits from the financial crash
The vast majority of American families lost wealth in the housing bust of 2007-09 and the financial crisis that came in the middle of it, and millions lost jobs or earnings. But it was possible for a canny or lucky investor to profit from the chaos — especially for a wealthy individual with access to unusual financial products. Maybe Romney made a lot of money through bets on skyrocketing foreclosures or well-timed investments in bailed-out banks. There’s nothing wrong with smart financial planning, but making money on the crash could be awkward for a politician. There’s a tension between promising to make things better and profiting off human misfortune.
A low tax bill because of the crash
There’s also the possibility that Romney’s investments lost some value during the crash years and that he combined this with aggressive exploitation of loopholes to pay a strikingly low tax bill. One rumor was that he managed to pay nothing in taxes, something his campaign has denied. But would paying $2.75 really look all that different from paying $0? A super-low tax bill would turn Romney into the poster child for President Obama’s very popular “Buffett rule” proposal, which aims for a minimum tax level on high-income individuals.
Swiss bank amnesty
We know from the tax documents Romney has released that he once had a Swiss bank account, a fact that the Obama campaign has played up in ads. But his 2010 tax return did not include a Report on Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts form (“FBAR” to accountants) detailing his offshore investments. In 2009, the Swiss government began to relent on its traditional banking secrecy rules, and banks turned over information about tens of thousands of American tax scofflaws to the U.S. government. To help deal with the crush, the IRS staged a limited-time amnesty in 2009 for American citizens with previously non-disclosed foreign accounts to pay their back taxes without penalty. It’s possible that earlier tax documents or the 2010 FBAR would show that Romney took advantage of the amnesty. While legal, this would amount to a problematic confession of past wrongdoing.
None of the above
The possibilities are endless. Romney’s vast wealth has already provided plenty of campaign fodder — from his car elevator to his proposed $10,000 bet with Texas Gov. Rick Perry during a debate — so almost any additional details about his finances would add fuel to the fire. But the most likely candidates for compromising revelations could relate to the 2008-09 period. Romney isn’t disclosing his 2006 or 2007 taxes, but by his own two-year standard he would have had to if he had won the 2008 Republican nomination. That makes the time between his presidential runs — a period that coincides with major upheavals in financial markets and bank secrecy practices — far and away the most likely window for something more politically worrisome than a reputation for reticence.
By: Matthew Yglesias, The Washington Post, July 20, 2012
The first indicators came during the Republican primaries, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry attacked Bain Capital-style capitalism. Perry even branded onetime Bain CEO Mitt Romney a vulture capitalist. The season has moved on — in fact, Perry campaigned for Romney last week in Elk City, Nev. – and the rhetoric has subsided.
But the reality is turning out to be quite problematic for Romney. Some kinds of free enterprise – such as a small family business – are perfect resume entries for a political candidate. But certain kinds of high-flying capitalism come across as cold-blooded and indecipherable, and they’re vulnerable to attack. Anything that involves the phrase “creative destruction,” for instance, would be risky.
What Romney is going through now is an experience neither major party may want to repeat. So if you are interested in running for president, here’s how to preserve your future viability:
1. Get rich the old-fashioned way. Create a product or service or business. Write a best-seller, like President Obama did. Run a successful company, like Herman Cain did. Jump on a trend early, like Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who saw the potential of cell phones.
2. When you file your tax returns, imagine they will be on the homepages of every website in the world. Be prepared to defend your low tax rate and explain how you’ve used your untaxed money to create jobs. Alternatively, say you’d like to change the tax code so people like you pay more.
3. Related: Keep your money in the United States. Do not shelter income in Switzerland, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands or anywhere else. Repeat: keep the money at home.
4. If you have a lot of money, give away a lot of money. Think Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. If you have enough excess cash, you might be able to help eradicate AIDS or revolutionize inner city education. Tithing to your church and creating trusts for your kids don’t count.
5. When you leave a position, leave the position. Make a clean break. If you don’t, you will have a hard time arguing you are not responsible for what happened after you kinda-sorta departed, but were still CEO and sole owner. Sure, you may not be able to claim credit for good things that happen after you’re gone. But you won’t be on the hook for developments that are politically unpalatable, and possibly a serious threat to your presidential hopes.
By: Jill Lawrence, The National Journal, July 16, 2012
What’s Mitt Romney hiding, exactly? Why won’t he release his long-form birth certificate college transcripts tax returns? Well, his tax returns are probably just the words “I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS PEASANT WORK I’M QUITE RICH YOU SEE” scrawled in a Montblanc on an otherwise blank 1040EZ, but we’ll likely never know: He refuses to release any returns from prior to 2010 (he claims he’ll get around to showing us his 2011 return), which is all sort of weird because the guy has been planning on running for president for a while, and one thing presidential candidates do is release a whole bunch of tax returns, a practice pioneered by this guy named George Romney, the kindly puppeteer/scientist who crafted/programmed young Willard.
Ann Romney, whose horse is competing in the Olympics, went on the TV to patiently explain that, no, the Romneys would not be sharing any more information on their finances. This is an actual thing she said, on ABC: ““We’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and how we live our life.”
Whoa, there, Ann. When you’re being painted as a living embodiment of out-of-touch plutocratic wealth, maybe avoid the construction “you people.” Even if you just mean it to refer to “the press,” which it seems like you probably did.
People have some theories about what is so bad in Romney’s tax returns. Some people think he might not have paid any taxes at all one year, which Romney’s campaign denies. (But how do we know?) Matt Yglesias, who points out that the guy already ran for president once so you’d think he’d have cleaned his tax situation up a bit, says maybe there’s something in the very recent past that Mitt doesn’t want exposed (like his disclosing his secret Swiss bank account to the IRS to avoid criminal prosecution in 2009?).
There are a bunch of other reasons, too, and all of them can be summarized as “he won’t release them because they will confirm what we already basically know about Romney’s wealth and business practices.”
But Ben Domenech and Erick Erickson have a different idea of exactly what Romney’s hiding. A brilliant, counterintuitive idea. This is for real their actual theory:
Ben Domenech has been doing some pretty solid reporting in The Transom (you’ve subscribed, haven’t you?) about what might be in Mitt Romney’s taxes. He offers this morning the best and most informed theory.
Why most informed? Well, he talked to people who were familiar with the veep vetting process for McCain in 2008.
Here’s what he reports:
So what about the years before 2009? We know he turned over more than two decades of returns to the McCain campaign during the veepstakes vetting process. What was in them? “Mitt’s taxes were complex, but clean. He overpaid his taxes…”
That’s so simple, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before. Mitt Romney doesn’t want anyone to know that he… overpaid his taxes. The guy whose effective rate was 14 percent in 2010, the one return he released to the public, definitely paid way more than that in his secret, hidden, earlier returns. He is embarrassed, I guess. He doesn’t want his rich financier friends to laugh at him.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, July 19, 2012