As you likely know, during the 1968 race for president, Michigan Governor George Romney ran for the Republican nomination. A self-made millionaire as former head of “American Motors”, the elder Romney released an unprecedented 12 years worth of past tax returns, explaining that “one year could be a fluke”, showing only what the candidate wanted you to see AFTER they decided to run for president. You know, maybe toss in some extra charitable giving, hide a few “embarrassing” investments/losses, whatever. Is it any wonder that… as the Obama campaign turns up the heat on George’s son… it’s becoming harder & harder for his supporters to argue that Mitt has “nothing to hide” as he continues to refuse to release anything more than his 2010 tax return (with a promise of an “estimate” for 2011)… years in which he was able to “tweak” his returns knowing he’d be running for president?
The chorus of frustrated Conservatives urging Mitt Romney to release his tax returns continues to grow: Governors Chris Christi, Haley Barbour and Robert Bently have all urged Romney to release several years worth of his taxes… at least as many as President Obama (12). Joining the chorus are Republican strategists John Weaver, Bill Kristol, George Will and Matt Dowd (below), all calling for Romney to put an end to this “distraction” and just release his tax returns:
(July 15, 2012 – 53sec)
As Dowd points out, “If he didn’t have anything to hide, it would all be out there.”
For Republicans, their obvious frustration grows as the Party’s new leader continues to put them in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the indefensible (“It sure looks like he’s trying to hide something”, they’re repeatedly asked.) But they also don’t seem to believe there could be anything so damaging in his returns that it would be worse than the damage he’s inflicting upon himself by NOT releasing them. Left with no other option, Republicans instead find themselves having to defend Romney’s refusal to release his taxes by calling it “a distraction” that we’re even focusing on them at all. On Meet the Press yesterday, when Democratic Strategist Hillary Rosen asked, “What is Romney trying to hide?”, Republican strategist Mike Murphy deflected Rosen’s question by accusing her of “deflecting” from the economy. That’s all they’ve got left, and they can’t do it forever. But you KNOW that if the tables were turned and President Obama were the one hiding his tax returns, Republicans would be on every channel asking: “What is he trying to hide?” (with Hannity, Beck and Limbaugh all claiming his returns would show Obama was born in Kenya).
So what’s the big deal about Romney’s taxes? Why do we even care? Have you ever asked someone an innocuous question about something mundane (“What’s in the box?”), and the reaction you got back was so WILDLY disproportionate (“Touch that box and I’ll beat the #@%!& out of you!”) that… where you didn’t really care before… now you HAVE to know? THAT is Romney’s tax issue right now. But why did we care in the first place? What might Romney’s tax returns reveal?
First, it bears mentioning that we already learned plenty of “uncomfortable” things from the one return Romney DID let us see. We learned that he’s been hiding millions in overseas tax shelters since the late 90′s. Republicans defended Romney’s tax evasion as trying to avoid “Obama’s high tax rate”. But Romney first hid that money in 1997 in a group called “Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors Ltd” in Bermuda, (which he conveniently put in his wife’s name the day before his inauguration as governor) and continued to hide his multiple accounts all through the Bush years even after President Bush passed his massive Tax Cut for the wealthy. And after three years, Obama has yet to repeal the Bush Tax Cut, so arguing Romney was protecting his wealth because of “excessive taxation by Obama” doesn’t wash. Something else we learned from the one tax-return we were permitted to see: Things like a $77,000 tax deduction for the care & feeding of his wife’s Olympic “Dressage” (Dancing) horse. Should the U.S. taxpayer really be footing that bill? And that’s just the stuff Romney thinks is OKAY we see… on a return he was able to “tweak” since deciding to run for president. Just imagine what’s in the returns for the years he DIDN’T know he might have to release them to the public?
A few things Romney’s past returns might tell us:
- First and most obviously: “How did Romney get his tax rate down to just 13.8%?” – We know from his one released return, that despite all the Republican caterwauling about America having “the highest corporate tax rate in the world”, Romney’s tax rate was lower than someone making $17,000/year (below the Poverty Line for a family of three). We only know part of the story so far: those tax shelters in Switzerland, Ireland, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg. But Romney is worth (according to his 2010 tax-return) nearly a quarter-billion dollars. Now consider the fact he stashed nearly $30-Million (ibid “1997″ link) in his Cayman Islands account alone, and Lord only knows how much he stashed in those other tax-shelters. Suddenly, we’re not looking at an effective tax rate of “14%”, but possibly something more like SIX percent (or even less). Romney’s (legal) tax evasion could reach into double-digit millions.
- Following up on that, might there have been years Romney paid 0% in taxes? It is EXTREMELY likely Romney paid NOTHING in taxes for a number of years (or worse, got money BACK from the government), throwing a huge bucket of cold-water on all those claims of “soak the rich” by the Right, obliterating any sympathy from struggling Middle-Class voters, all while lending support for the “Occupy” Movement’s outrage over “tax fairness”. How does your candidate then go around the country and make a convincing case that “the rich are paying too much and need a tax break” after we find out there were years he didn’t pay a dime in taxes? If you’ve been paying “nothing” for years, tweaking your tax return so that you take fewer deductions one year in order to raise your rate to the giddy height of (a whopping) 14 percent might seem like the prudent thing to do. As George Romney said, “one year might be a fluke.”
- We are only now starting to learn Romney was still the “sole shareholder, President and CEO” of Bain Capital for three years after he supposedly left the company in 1999 to run the 2002 Winter Olympics. Many of Bain’s most egregious profiteering took place in those years, yet Romney was always able to deny responsibility for those years by claiming he had “retired” by then. Of course, we know now the company declared he was only on a ”temporary leave of absence”, and… despite organizing the Winter Olympics in Utah… was still being paid $100,000/year for doing “absolutely nothing”. That isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound. It’s not unheard of for companies to agree to continue a Chief Executive’s salary even after they’ve gone just for the right to keep their name on the letterhead to prevent customers from bailing. So going after Romney on that particular bit of decadence… while a real turn-off for struggling voters… is hardly evidence of anything “criminal” or even (arguably) “unethical”. But what if those tax returns show that Romney was indeed still running Bain, or at the very least, still making decisions and representing the company. We already know Romney testified under oath that he “flew back home” while managing the Olympics to “attend board meetings” of some of the companies Bain managed.
- Besides that “$100,000″ paycheck, might any income from some of those plant closures have made their way into Romney’s coffers? Bain owned a huge stake in most of the companies they financed. Sure wouldn’t look too good if… following a plant closure and liquidating their assets… Romney “made a killing” off the sale of those assets (this is also known as profiting off human-misery).
- Might we see some “business deductions” associated with some of those plant closures Romney says he had no connection to? This is what Kojak called “placing the suspect at the scene of the crime.”
- Speaking of “profiting off misery”, how about receiving “stock options” from the companies Bain took over while Romney was in Utah? If you’re paid dividends, you should be paying the Capital Gains rate of 15% on those dividends… unless you’re sheltering that income overseas, in which case we are back to paying zero in taxes.
- Romney stands to save a lot of money by extending the Bush tax cuts. “Just how much” it might profit Romney personally to extend those cuts could be answered by seeing those past returns.
- Did Romney donate to any charities he wouldn’t want to have to explain? We already know he donated millions to the Mormon church at the same time the church spent $8.4 million in 2008 to pass “Prop 8″, California’s anti-gay marriage amendment, as well “The Becket Fund”, a group that fought to keep discrimination against gays in the workplace, legal.
- We already know some of the companies Bain invested in benefited from The Stimulus. Any of that Stimulus money find its way into Mitt’s pocket?
- And lastly, if it does turn out Romney weaseled out of paying taxes for the better part of a decade, he could wind up owing tens of millions in back taxes, penalties & fines. Not only would it cost him a ton of money, it would assuredly cost him the presidency.
I’m sure there are a dozen other dirty details we’d learn from seeing Romney’s past returns, but that’s just a few off the top of my head. I’m not a tax attorney, whom I’m sure could come up with a dozen other “revelations” we could learn from Romney’s past returns, but just from my brief list, I already think there are enough possibilities to leave the Governor with a lot of explainin’ to do.
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