A Unified Theory of Romney Tax-Stubbornness
The latest journalist to press Mitt Romney on his tax returns is the ultra-resourceful Josh Tyrangiel of Businessweek. Here’s how he cleverly posed the question in a recent interview:
If you’re an investor and you’re looking at a company, and that company says that its great strength is wise management and fiscal know-how, wouldn’t you want to see the previous, say, five years’ worth of its financials?
Alas, no dice. Romney’s response:
I’m not a business. We have a process in this country, which was established by law, which provides for the transparency which candidates are required to meet. I have met with that requirement with full financial disclosure of all my investments, but in addition have provided and will provide a full two years of tax returns. This happens to be exactly the same as with John McCain when he ran for office four years ago. And the Obama team had no difficulty with that circumstance. The difference between then and now is that President Obama has a failed economic record and is trying to find any issue he can to deflect from the failure of his record. Thanks, guys. Goodbye.
The conventional wisdom on why Romney won’t release more than two years of tax returns was shaped by George Will, who now-famously posited: “The cost of not releasing the returns are clear. Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.” Since then, the speculation has produced three basic theories. The first, which Tyrangiel’s Businessweek colleague Josh Green laid out most elegantly, is that Romney paid little or no taxes in 2009, which voters might find a bit infuriating for a guy worth several hundred million dollars. As Green writes:
When the stock market collapsed in 2008, the wealthiest investors fared worse than everyone else. (See, for instance, this Merrill Lynch study.) The “ultra-rich”—those with fortunes of more than $30 million—fared worst of all, losing on average about 25 percent of their net worth. …
As a member of the ultra-rich, Romney probably wasn’t spared major losses. And it’s possible he suffered a large enough capital loss that, carried forward and coupled with his various offshore tax havens, he wound up paying no U.S. federal taxes at all in 2009.
Green goes on to point out that 2009 is really the only Romney tax-year almost no one knows anything about, since he released 20 years’ worth of returns to John McCain’s vetters—and McCain aides have assured us they were kosher—and has released at least part of his returns for 2010 and 2011. (Depending on what Romney knew and told McCain about 2008, that year could also be opaque, but this doesn’t change the basic point.) That 2009 would be the sticking point affirms the idea of a financial-crisis-related story.