Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has been reeling from a series of attacks by President Obama and over the former Massachusetts governor’s tenure as head of private equity firm Bain Capital.
I’ve said some of the attacks have been over the top, but they’ve definitely hit home as Romney has been slipping in the polls in some key swing states, and he’s been on the defensive for the last few weeks.
Now comes the next wave of Team Obama’s assault, and it may be even more damaging. The campaign released another 30-second negative ad (what other kind are the candidates running?), this time about Romney’s taxes, in the key state of Pennsylvania. You can watch it on YouTube, but here’s how it goes:
Tax havens, offshore accounts, carried interest: Mitt Romney has used every trick in the book. Romney admits that over the last two years he’s paid less than 15% in taxes on $43 million in income. Makes you wonder if some years he paid any taxes at all. We don’t know because Romney has released just one full year of his tax returns, and won’t release anything before 2010…What is Mitt Romney hiding?
This is tough stuff, but unlike some of the Bain assault ads, totally fair game. Romney has been adamant about not disclosing more tax returns than his 2010 and 2011 filings, the latter of which will be complete by the fall.
From what he’s disclosed—and from independent investigative reporting—we already know he had investments in Bermuda, tax- sheltered accounts in the Cayman Islands and an IRA worth $100 million, and had a Swiss bank account at one point. (On the plus side, we also know he is a generous contributor to charity, going well beyond the requisite 10% tithing he contributes each year to the Mormon church.)
But that’s just a teaser for what we don’t yet know. Steve Schmidt, a top advisor to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, refutes Democrats’ claim McCain dropped Romney from consideration for the vice-presidential nomination after seeing his tax returns.
Still, Romney released 23 years of tax returns to John McCain when he wanted to be vice president but only two to the American people when he wants to be president. Said Schmidt on Monday:
And the bottom line is the American people don’t trust politicians so nobody gets the benefit of the doubt and the utterance of the accusation does damage. People believe you’re hiding something. It’s wrong, it’s unfair, but it’s life in the big leagues.
Big leagues indeed. Both campaigns are scrambling to define their candidates and opponents before the summer Olympics start in a week and a half. Then, the public will presumably shut down until the conventions begin in Tampa just before Labor Day.
Team Obama is trying to depict Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat who has manipulated the tax code to his advantage and won’t come clean to the American people. If that image sticks, it would keep Romney on the defensive and make it harder for him to make what could be a strong case against the president. That’s why conservative pundits like George Will and Bill Kristol are urging Romney to release more tax returns ASAP.
So, the former governor must determine whether what’s in those unreleased tax returns is more damaging than the suspicion that he’s got something to hide. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t question, and so far Team Romney doesn’t have a good answer.