Mitt Romney’s secrets

Correction: Clarification: Due to a technical error, an earlier version of this editorial was incorrectly bylined. We regret the error.

April 23, 2012

MITT ROMNEY’S contemptuous attitude toward the importance of public disclosure is increasingly troubling. Whether it involves the details of his personal finances or the identity of his big fundraisers, the presumptive Republican is setting a new, low bar for transparency — one that does not augur well for how the Romney White House would conduct itself if he were elected.

First is the matter of tax returns. Mr. Romney’s campaign, belatedly and under pressure, released a single year’s worth of tax information in January along with a summary for the 2011 return. Now, with a Friday afternoon release conveniently timed for minimum news coverage a week ago, it announced that the candidate had filed for an extension. “Sometime in the next six months, and prior to the election, Gov. Romney will file and release the 2011 return when there is sufficient information to provide an accurate return,” spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.

The campaign insisted that Mr. Romney was delaying because some of the companies in which he had invested had yet to report their earnings. This explanation would be a lot more palatable if Mr. Romney had demonstrated any inclination to live up to the standards of most previous presidential candidates — including, most notably, his own father, George Romney, who released a dozen years of returns when he ran for president in 1968.

Mitt Romney turned over more than two decades of returns when he was vetted as a possible vice presidential running mate for 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain. A few presidential candidates, including Mr. McCain, have been this stingy with their tax records, but the information is particularly relevant in Mr. Romney’s case because of the size of his fortune and the low share of income he paid in taxes for the year that was released.

Then there is the mystery of Mr. Romney’s bundlers. Candidates such as Mr. McCain, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, among others, voluntarily did the right thing and revealed the identity of these major fundraisers. Mr. Romney, despite the undeniable importance of these individuals, has declined to follow that practice.

Bundlers play a crucial role for political candidates, collecting donations that can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars to fuel campaigns. The candidates know full well to whom they are indebted. Perhaps Mr. Romney can explain why the public isn’t entitled to the same information.

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