The internet is alive with speculation that the secret source Harry Reid claims to have on Mitt Romney’s tax returns is Utah industrialist Jon Huntsman Sr. He is the founder of Hunstman Corporation and the father of the former GOP presidential candidate — and the speculation is based on the fact that his profile fits with much of what we publicly know about Reid’s presumed confidante.

But I just got off the phone with Huntsman, and he confirmed to me that he is not Reid’s source.

However, in a move that could be significant, Huntsman forcefully called on Romney to release his tax returns. This matters, because Huntsman is a longtime backer of Romney — he has long been close to Romney; he supported his early campaigns; he was the national finance chairman of Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign; and he has raised a lot of money for him over the years. (He backed his own son in the latest GOP primary.)

“I feel very badly that Mitt won’t release his taxes and won’t be fair with the American people,” Huntsman told me. In a reference to Romney’s father, who pioneered the release of returns as a presidential candidate, Huntsman said: “I loved George. He always said, pay your taxes for at least 10 or 12 years.” (See update below.)

“Mr. Romney ought to square with the American people and release his taxes like any other candidate,” Huntsman said. “I’ve supported Mitt all along. I wish him well. But I do think he should release his income taxes.”

Reid has claimed that he has it from someone who knows that Romney paid no taxes for a long time. Some have speculated Huntsman is Reid’s source because Huntsman is partners with Robert Gay, a lontime managing director of Bain; they are both officers at Huntsman Gay Global Capital. Huntsman is also close to Reid.

But Huntsman adamantly denied discussing Romney’s returns with Reid, and said he knew nothing about them.

“That’s absolutely false,” Huntsman said of the speculation. “I have absolutely no knowledge of Bain or Mitt Romney’s tax returns.”

Asked directly if he had ever had a conversation of any kind with Reid about Romney’s returns, Huntsman reiterated he hadn’t. Huntsman said his main connection to Reid is through their shared interest in cancer research.

In any case, the more important thing here might be Huntsman’s call for Romney to release his returns. He may be the highest profile Republican — and he’s certainly the one closest to Romney — to do so thus far.


UPDATE: Huntsman’s phrasing above — in which he quoted George Romney saying we should “pay” our taxes for 10 or 12 years — was inadvertently awkward phrasing on his part. Huntsman’s assistant confirms that he meant George said candidates should release their returns for 10 to 12 years. Obviously this doesn’t change the story at all.

More from The Washington Post:

James Downie: Polls show Romney in deep trouble

Greg Sargent: Romney’s ‘Didn’t build that’ attack a bust

Jamelle Bouie: Romney performing poorly with Latinos

E.J. Dionne: Will Republicans return their rebates?

Eugene Robinson: Make climate change an election issue

Gallery: Eight issues the candidates won’t talk about — The economy is blotting out the sun issue-wise in the 2012 campaign. Here are eight important issues left in the shadows. They’re adapted from a new book by The Post’s Chris Cillizza, “The Gospel According to The Fix: An Insider’s Guide to a Less Than Holy World of Politics.” (Broadway Books)