We are in the dog days of summer, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney finds himself in the dog house. After fighting to make this campaign about taxes and other economic issues, Romney is being hounded by a bipartisan posse to release his own tax returns.
The political talk shows found Republican commentators speaking almost as one as they demanded Romney release more tax returns. It was curious, almost as if the Republican Party had issued a “talking points” memo against its own candidate. ABC commentator and syndicated columnist George Will said, “The costs of not releasing the returns are clear, therefore, (Romney) must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”
The conservative publication National Review joined in. While the editors said they didn’t expect any surprises, they added, “Romney’s personal finances are a very good case study in what’s wrong with the American tax system and regulatory climate.”
The liberal blog ThinkProgress published a list of 15 Republican icons, from Rep. Ron Paul to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who have gone on the record saying Romney should “just do it.” But before the day was out, they had to update the article because four more Republican luminaries had joined the drumbeat.
While Romney has attempted to shift focus back to President Obama and his record on the economy, some mainstream media outlets are still demanding to have their questions answered. The reliably conservative Forbes magazine found Democratic charges about Romney’s record at Bain Capital credible enough to publish a list of 35 questions they’d ask Romney about Bain — questions that only Romney’s tax returns can fully answer.
Forbes question No. 5: “You earned at least $100,000 as an executive from Bain in 2001 and 2002. Can you give an example of anyone else you personally know getting a six-figure income ... from a company they had nothing to do with?”
On the heels of this, Business Insider published an article titled, “Americans Want to See What’s in Mitt Romney’s Tax Returns.” In fact, Democrats have barely needed to push the issue, now that so many Republicans and members of the media feel that Romney has a duty to make his tax returns public. Yet instead of embracing transparency, he is hard at work giving the impression he has something to hide.
Even Romney’s 2010 tax return, the only one he has released thus far, has raised more questions than answers. Under a law passed in 1978, all presidential candidates must disclose their “personal financial holdings” to the Office of Government Ethics.
However, when the Los Angeles Times examined Romney’s 2010 tax return and his earlier OGE filings, it discovered “at least 23 funds and partnerships listed in the couple’s 2010 tax returns (that) did not show up or were not listed in the same fashion on Romney’s” declaration to the OGE. Swiss bank accounts and offshore holdings appeared and disappeared between the two filings like the Cheshire Cat’s grin.
Bear in mind, the American people aren’t making a unique demand of Romney. Voters instinctively want to know as much as possible about the person who seeks their trust to lead this nation, and the release of tax returns has been an important part of presidential courtship for years.
It was Romney’s father, George Romney, the former governor of Michigan, who set the standard for presidential candidates. The elder Romney voluntarily released 12 years of his own tax returns when he was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968. “One year could be a fluke, done for show,” his father said. So far, one year’s worth is all we’ve gotten from Mitt, and he’s said he thinks that’s good enough for us.
It’s not good enough, though, and the pressure keeps mounting. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler points out that Romney’s stonewalling sticks out like a sore thumb. “John Kerry in 2004, Al Gore in 2000, George W. Bush in 2000, Bob Dole in 1996, Bill Clinton in 1992 and Michael Dukakis in 1988 all released many years of tax returns when they ran for president against the incumbent,” he wrote on Tuesday.
Ultimately, it seems like the Romney campaign doesn’t want to release the returns because it’s afraid of what might be found inside. Romney recently told National Review that he is “simply not enthusiastic about giving (Democrats and the media) hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort and lie about.”
My advice to Mr. Romney is this: When you’ve disclosed fully, nobody will be able to lie, because the facts will be out there. This summer heat wave will break, and the truth will set you free. You might not like what’s inside, but the voters have a right to know.
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.