Obama to Romney: Give us 5 years of tax returns, but Romney declines

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 16, 2012 

— President Barack Obama's campaign Friday put new pressure on Mitt Romney to release more tax returns, urging the Republican to release five years of data--and in return, the Democrats will go easier on him.

The Romney campaign resisted the offer.

Romney said Thursday that over the past 10 years, he’d never paid less than a 13 percent rate in income taxes, but refused again to release more of his returns. Friday, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina wrote Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades with his new request.

"Governor Romney apparently fears that the more he offers, the more our campaign will demand that he provide," Messina wrote. "So I am prepared to provide assurances on just that point: if the Governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more--neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign."

He sought five years of returns, from 2007 to 2012. Romney, governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, has released 2010 returns and estimates of his 2011 taxes. In 2010, he paid taxes at a 13.9 percent rate, and in 2011, he expected to pay at a 15.4 percent rate.

"In the Governor's case, a five-year release would appropriately span all the years that he has been a candidate for president," Messina said. "It would also help answer outstanding questions raised by the one return he has released to date, such as the range in the effective rates paid, the foreign accounts maintained, the foreign investments made and the types of tax shelters used."

He added: "The Governor and his campaign can expect in return that we will refrain from questioning whether he has released enough or pressing for more.”

Rhoades quickly doused much hope of a further release.

"It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending," he said in a note to Messina.

"If Governor Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days.

"In the meantime, Governor Romney will continue to lay out his plans for a stronger middle class, to save Medicare, to put work back into welfare, and help the 23 million Americans struggling to find work in the Obama economy."

Soon to be nominated as the Republican presidential standard-bearer, Romney said Thursday he’d gone back and looked at his taxes, and found that "over the past 10 years, I never paid less than 13 percent. I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that."

At a news conference Thursday in Greer, S.C., Romney tried to defuse the political controversy over his stance, saying the commotion was "small-minded."

And he took aim at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who charged earlier this month on the Senate floor that Romney had paid no taxes for a decade, but offered no proof. Reid said he’d heard that from a Bain Capital investor whom he refused to identify. Romney co-founded Bain, a private equity firm.

"I paid taxes every single year," Romney said. "Harry Reid’s charge is totally false. I’m sure waiting for Harry to put up who it was that told him what he says they told him."

On Thursday, Reid wouldn’t back down.

"We’ll believe it when we see it,” said his spokesman, Adam Jentleson. “Until Mitt Romney releases his tax returns, Americans will continue to wonder what he’s hiding. Romney seems to think he plays by a different set of rules than every other presidential candidate for the last 30 years, all of whom lived up to the standard of transparency set by Mitt Romney’s father and released their tax returns."

When Romney’s father, George Romney, was the governor of Michigan and ran for president in 1968, he released 12 years’ worth of returns.

Reid has refused to release his own tax returns, despite repeated requests from McClatchy.

Romney’s comments are the latest chapter in a saga that’s kept his presidential campaign on the defensive. President Barack Obama’s forces have relentlessly demanded release of the returns, suggesting that Romney is hiding something.

"He has the ability to prove his claim," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said. "The American people deserve the opportunity to look through these documents and make their own conclusions. . . . We would say, prove it, Mr. Romney."

Romney didn’t explain Thursday why he won’t release the returns. His comments came at the end of a news conference where other topics were discussed.

"I just have to say, given the challenges that America faces – 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty – the fascination with taxes I paid, I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues we now face," he said.

In January, Romney reported owing $6.2 million in federal taxes on $42.5 million in income over the past two years. His campaign released more than 500 pages of documents.

The data showed that Romney had offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands and his blind trust maintained a Swiss bank account until 2010.

It revealed that the Romneys had an adjusted gross income of $21.6 million that year and paid about $3 million in taxes. The couple also donated $2.9 million to charitable causes.

Since virtually all their income was from past investments and taxed as capital gains, they had an effective 2010 rate of taxation of 13.9 percent. Last year, Romney earned an estimated $20.9 million, and he expected to pay $3.2 million, for a 15.4 percent rate.Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife, has defended the decision not to release any more returns.

"We have been very transparent to what’s legally required of us,” she said in an interview to be broadcast Thursday on NBC. “There’s going to be no more tax releases given."

If they release any more information, she said, "it will only give them more ammunition," referring to her husband’s political opponents. "There’s nothing we’re hiding."

Email: dlightman@mcclatchydc.com, wdouglas@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lightmandavid, @williamgdouglas

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