There is a part of me that wishes that the drip drip drip of tales of Mitt Romney’s American Workers Trail of Tears for had started trickling out after the late August Republican nominating convention because
A) they would have been stuck with him
B) less time to do damage control before the November election if damage control is at all possible
But here comes the flood:
Paying taxes forthrightly has long been a matter of civic pride for most American politicians, a demonstration of honesty and of a willingness to share in society’s burdens. Since the Watergate era, presidential candidates have released several years of tax returns, allowing voters to peer at their financial choices and discern their entanglements.
Mitt Romney has upended that tradition this year. He has released only one complete tax return, for 2010, along with an unfinished estimate of his 2011 taxes. What information he did release provides a fuzzy glimpse at a concerted effort to park much of his wealth in overseas tax shelters, suggesting a widespread pattern of tax avoidance unlike that of any previous candidate.
Mr. Romney has resisted all demands for more disclosure, leading to growing criticism from Democrats that he is trying to hide his fortune and his tax schemes from the public. Given the troubling suspicions about his finances, he needs to release many more returns and quickly open his books to full scrutiny.
The 2010 tax return showed that the blind trust held by his wife, Ann, included a $3 million Swiss bank account that had not been properly reported on previous financial disclosure statements. (The account was closed by the trust manager in 2010 who feared it might become embarrassing for the campaign. He was right.) It also showed that Mr. Romney had used a complex offshore tax shelter, known as a blocker corporation, to shield the investments in his I.R.A. from paying an obscure business tax.
The use of that technique by wealthy taxpayers and institutions, long been blasted by Congressional tax experts as abusive, costs the treasury $1 billion a decade.
Recent articles by The Associated Press and Vanity Fair focused on a Bermuda account that Mr. Romney transferred to his wife’s blind trust the day before he was inaugurated as governor of Massachusetts in 2003. The account, created in 1997, had not been properly disclosed to voters until January. Even though it had few assets in 2010, according to the return, it could have sheltered a significant amount of income last year or in previous years.
Mr. Romney also has not fully explained the nature of his separation agreement with Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he founded, which he left in 1999. Last month, his trust reported receiving a $2 million payment from Bain as part of unpaid earnings from his work there. Of the 138 Bain funds organized in the Cayman Islands, Mr. Romney has interests in 12, worth up to $30 million, according to Vanity Fair.
Firms like Bain park money in the Caymans because the islands have no taxes on capital gains, profits or income for foreigners. But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
As for Bain and how it plays in Peoria:
Many commentators view the attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain years as little more than an effort to paint him as a heartless plutocrat. But the strategy is a good deal more complex than that. The goal is twofold: First, to undermine Romney’s principle case for the presidency, i.e., that his business background makes him a “job creator” who is equipped to turn around the country’s economy. And second, to define Romney in a way that makes it easier for voters to understand his true policy goals and priorities on entitlements, taxes, and other issues.
In an interview with me just now, Geoff Garin, the pollster for the lead Obama ally Priorities USA Action, spelled this out — and insisted new polling the group has produced shows the attack is working.
Priorities will release a memo tomorrow [Wednesday] detailing polling in the five swing states where Priorities has been running ads — Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Garin said the polling will show:
* a clear jump in the number of voters in those states who are less, rather than more, likely to vote for Romney on the basis of his business background, and
* a sizable jump in the number who believe Romney’s priority was making lots of money for himself and his investers, regardless of the impact it had on jobs and employees.
Most Americans don’t have a problem with people making an honest buck or two, but when you couple destroying American jobs by loading up businesses with unsupportable debt so that you can pay yourself exorbitant “management fees” and then stashing the money in offshore accounts like a drug kingpin … well,
Houston Republicans, you have a problem.
And they know it.
Better start warming up Palin in the bullpen…