The Democratic attacks are part of a broader effort to portray Romney as excessively secretive, an argument that escalated Thursday with fresh accusations that he did not leave Bain Capital, an investment company he co-founded, in 1999 as he has said.
The candidate submitted to public pressure during the Republican primaries and released his 2010 tax returns, and he has said he will release his 2011 returns later this year once they are complete. Although Romney has followed the law, he has not adhered to historical precedent. His father, George, released 12 years’ worth of tax returns when he ran for president in 1968, and other top-tier candidates have traditionally taken a similar approach.
For the Romney campaign, the calculation is complex, as his advisers are weighing the benefits of transparency against the potential problems he could face should the documents reveal — or even appear to reveal — that he has gamed the tax code.
For now, Romney’s advisers said that the candidate has been sufficiently transparent and that he has no plans to disclose additional tax filings. But with four months left until Election Day — and the near-certainty that Romney will face questions about his finances in any interviews and in the fall debates — his advisers might be forced to reevaluate their strategy if the issue damages his standing in the polls.
Even some Republicans are describing the Romney position as problematic. Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, a onetime party chairman, said this week that he would provide more than two years’ worth of documents if he were in Romney’s shoes.
Strategist Mark McKinnon said the candidate's reluctance to release his taxes feeds into the Obama campaign’s argument that Romney is hiding something and taking advantage of the system to enrich himself.
“I think it’s pretty obvious there is something in the records that is problematic or the Romney campaign would have turned them over by now,” he said. “And they are gambling that the heat they’ll take for not disclosing is less than the fire they’ll take for the information that will become public if they do disclose.”
In 2008, when Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican nominee, was considering Romney for his running mate, Romney reportedly sent McCain’s vetting team tax returns dating to 1985. “I’m a bit of a pack rat, so I had them all,” the Arizona Republic quoted him as saying.