The Washington Post

Mitt Romney’s tax excuse #213: The widow did it, why can't I?!

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been hounded for months by Democrats and Republicans to release several years of his tax returns. But he may have hit a new low Tuesday when he declared on “Fox and Friends” that plenty of other presidential hopefuls have made the same choice to keep their personal finances private, including Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pauses during a campaign event at Horizontal Wireline Services on Tuesday, in Irwin, Pa. (Evan Vucci/AP)

John Kerry’s wife?  Really, Mitt Romney? 

It’s hard to know where to start with Romney’s Widow Heinz defense, but let’s begin with the obvious—  Teresa Heinz Kerry was not running for president in 2004, her husband was.  Even then, Teresa Heinz Kerry actually did release a summary of her tax returns for 2003, but only after it became such a big issue for the Kerry camp it could no longer be ignored.

Although the Kerrys kept their finances so separate that Kerry famously had to take out a $6 million mortgage on his house to keep his presidential campaign afloat (rather than dip into the vast fortune that his wife had inherited from her late husband), everyone from the Howard Dean campaign to the Wall Street Journal editorial board wanted  to see what his wife’s millions would say about the senator —Were there offshore accounts?  Exotic tax shelters?  A lower tax rate for the heiress than the regular tax rate a waitress would pay? 

In the end, Teresa Heinz Kerry reluctantly allowed a peek into her family’s financial information—yes, she paid a significantly lower percentage of her income in taxes than most working Americans.  But a family lawyer added that none of her money was parked offshore to avoid taxes at home. Romney’s lawyers have made no such claim.

On Tuesday, Romney also pointed to McCain as an example of a presidential candidate who kept his money matters mostly secret.  But just like Kerry, McCain came across most of his money by marrying it. His wife, Cindy McCain, had inherited a multi-million fortune from her family’s liquor business, while the senator had just his Senate salary and his Navy pension to his name. Even then, Cindy McCain eventually did release two year’s worth of information, saying she “just didn't want the release of the tax returns to become a distraction from the big issues of the campaign."

Romney’s comparison to McCain and Kerry ignores the crucial fact that nearly all of the money he is taxed on has come directly from his own actions and from a radically successful business career that would make most people proud. But his refusal to share the details of his money and the taxes he has paid on it leaves voters with only one assumption to make—that the damage he’s inflicting on himself now is nothing in comparison to the damage that would be done by revealing where his fortune comes from and which taxes he has paid on it over the years.

As a glance at history shows, Americans have no problem with a wealthy president.  In fact, they often to gravitate toward men with deep pockets, family compounds and glamorous dynasties to lean on. But Americans do have a problem with someone who seems to be hiding something. And a candidate who points a finger at someone’s wife as an excuse for his own choices? That never ends well.



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