Mitt Romney’s tax return problem

Al Kamen
Columnist January 26, 2012

Mitt Romney’s release Tuesday of his most recent tax returns — showing accounts in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, no visible signs of a job (but earning $20-plus million a year), and a tax rate of just 14 percent — have been great fodder for his opponents and the media.

But that’s just his returns for 2010 and 2011. And he emphatically insists he will release no more.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Look for a flip-flop here.

Pressure will surely build for more records. His opponents and the media will start the always-annoying “What is he hiding?” drumbeat.

(That may intensify after people get a look at a Los Angeles Times article Thursday about how Romney didn’t include on his financial disclosure forms a number of on- and offshore accounts that are on his tax returns.)

Romney’s father, George, released 12 years’ worth of tax returns when, though he was born in Mexico, he ran for president in 1968.

“One year could be a fluke,” he explained then, “perhaps done for show.” Two years is only slightly less fluky.

Mitt Romney originally said he would “probably” release his returns in April since that’s when past candidates tended do so.

But, as PolitiFact reported, that’s only partly true. It noted that many candidates have done so long before April of the election year, including Bob Dole, who released 30 years’ worth of returns in January 1996.

And Romney gave 23 (that’s twenty-three) years of his returns to Sen. John McCain in 2008 when he was trying to be picked as McCain’s running mate. (Unclear if McCain picked Sarah Palin because of, or in spite of, that information.)

Detractors will sniff that it’s not readily apparent why McCain and his staff should be privy to that information but the American people have no right to see it. Romney is “running for office, for Pete’s sake,” as he told a lawn company manager.

The problem is, if Romney releases the returns he gave McCain, the pressure will only intensify for the two remaining years, 2008 and 2009, when the economy went into a tailspin and millions lost their homes and jobs. They’ll be called “the lost years,” likened to the Nixon Tapes’ 181 / 2-minute gap and such.

Some folks think those returns could be devastating to him. But maybe not. Let’s see . . .

Okay, got it. Let’s say they show that he made millions betting against the market — there’s an investment in one fund during the lost years that suggests that was the case. But that would only go to prove that his keen business acumen is not limited to consulting and that he really understands the economy and what makes it tick.

Or, conversely, Romney, already jobless and living off his savings, may have gotten hammered just like most everyone else, enabling him to show that he truly relates to the 99 percent and permitting a Bill Clinton “I feel your pain” riff on the stump, which would do much to counter feelings that his immense fortune isolates him from the concerns of average Americans. “You think you lost money,” he could say. “I lost $50 million!”

A veritable win-win!

Newt’s nature

Meanwhile, some anti-Newt Gingrich Republicans are citing enviros, of all people, to skewer the former House speaker as not being a true conservative.

They’ve dug up a 1999 article in the Environmental Forum by Michael J. Bean, formerly of the Environmental Defense Fund and now counselor to the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks at the Interior Department, titled “The Gingrich That Saved the ESA [Endangered Species Act].”

Bean’s article credited Gingrich’s “singular role in saving the ESA from what seemed an almost certain dismembering” after Republicans won control of Congress in 1994.

Ferocious opposition from timber interests (think “spotted owl), developers, fishermen and GOP lawmakers — were almost certainly going to wipe out the law, Bean wrote.

But the enviros got through to Gingrich after they found out he had been a big contributor to the Atlanta Zoo and saw a 1994 Washington Post series about him that included a story of how 10-year-old Newt had led a virtual crusade to persuade city officials in Harrisburg, Pa., to build a zoo.

Gingrich eventually derailed the effort to kill the ESA, infuriating most all his House Republican caucus. Conservatives started going after Gingrich, who found “refuge and solace” in going to zoos, Bean wrote. “Just about every time Gingrich went to a major city for a speech or other event, he made it a point to visit the local zoo.”

Add that experience to the famous global-warming television ad with Nancy Pelosi on a couch and you’ve got an implacable GOP opposition to anything Gingrich.

But he’s not backing down. In fact, he’s just put up a Web site, www.petswithnewt.com, that shows puppies and kittens backing his candidacy and has him at zoos posing with Knut the polar bear, a baby alligator, something that looks like a giant sloth and so forth.

What not to wear

House Speaker John A. Boehner bid a teary and touching farewell to Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) as she left the chamber this week, but moments later he was far more businesslike.

The Ohio Republican, who was presiding over the chamber, reminded members that they must wear “proper attire” on the House floor. So, who were the presumably scruffy, improperly dressed culprits who provoked the warning?

A Boehner spokesman says his boss was merely offering a general (and gentle) reminder of House rules.

But we noticed a few necktie-less members amid the throngs. The casual-Friday looks were most likely because many lawmakers were planning to board planes bound for their home districts later in the day — and who likes to wear a confining tie whilst hoisting one’s luggage?

Boehner is known for his sartorial correctness: He’s rarely spotted without a natty cravat himself, and he loves to taunt journos about their sloppy attire — a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.

Just swinging by

Let’s call it the Cabinet’s Purple Tour.

President Obama’s secretaries and their deputies are fanning out across the nation to talk up their boss’s State of the Union proposals — and, whadda ya know, their travels are mostly taking them to battleground states. Imagine!

Our colleague Ed O’Keefe has the complete list of their itineraries, and here’s the takeaway: Eleven of the 16 states to be graced with an administration emissary are considered swing states.

On Wednesday, for example, Commerce Secretary John Bryson visited Norfolk, where he toured a mattress factory. A little luckier, climate-wise, was Education Secretary Arne Duncan, off to a Tallahassee town hall meeting.

Some of the planned trips don’t appear to have the potential for a political payoff, like NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s planned jaunt to Morgan State University in true-blue Baltimore.

Still, it’s interesting how official business so often happens in electorally significant states.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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