Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

July 23, 2012

Romney should show tax returns

TAHLEQUAH — Everyone already knows Mitt Romney’s a millionaire. Any voter who would reject him for president based on his income has already done that. So why is he fussing so much about releasing his tax returns?

Romney wants voters to hire him for a job – one of the most important jobs in the world. And the president is not a private citizen; he’s about the most public person on the globe. The American people have a right to personal information about him they wouldn’t get for anyone else.

Ironically, Romney’s own father, George, started the tradition of politicians’ releasing tax returns. In the ensuing 40 years, most political aspirants have reasoned this denotes  transparency. When a candidate won’t comply, it suggests he might have something to hide. Though a candidate is not required to provide these details, doing so suggests an attempt to be above-board and honest. It offers a peek into his priorities, and reveals something about character. For astute voters, and for those riding the fence, this information can be a deciding factor.

Several years ago, when Al Gore was running for president, one of his tax returns created  a stir. Despite his comfortable cash flow and hefty portfolio, Gore had only donated $400 and change to charity the previous year. Under the commonly held wisdom that what you do with your money is more important than how much you have, this was a revealing statement for voters. The average middle-class American was donating more than five times that.

Romney was likely embarrassed by the fact that he only paid 13.9 percent taxes in 2010, and this is understandable. This shines a glaring light on what many people consider to be a problem with the current tax system, since most Americans pay more like 25 or 28 percent, or even more. But this isn’t the underlying issue; in fact, Romney’s 2010 tax return raised more questions than it answered.

For instance, how did Romney end up with a $100 million IRA, in light of contribution limits for retirement plans? Is it appropriate for a presidential candidate to bet against the U.S. dollar by investing in Swiss francs? Most folks would also invest in Swiss banks if they had the money, but in this case, they may be forgiven for wondering whether the Romneys reported everything they made, or if they took advantage of an amnesty program in 2009 for unreported foreign bank accounts. And the public might also legitimately ask whether Romney reported and paid gift taxes on his mammoth trust funds. Maybe Romney is just sensitive about his wealth, which is so vast it’s incomprehensible to most people. Or maybe there’s something he doesn’t want the public to know – something that would be seized upon by CPAs, tax experts and financial experts as evidence of a footloose approach to financial and tax law.

The president of the U.S. is one of the most powerful people in the world. His influence reaches not just every domestic domain from the Beltway, to the plains, mountains and sea. It also affects what happens at pinnacles of power, like 10 Downing and the Kremlin, all the way to the smallest village in sub-Saharan Africa.

The president’s salary and benefits package of $600,000 is insignifcant compared to what Romney’s used to pulling in. But as president, he will have access to something far more important than another income: He’ll have the kind of power that could make us or break us – literally, access to a button that controls our fate.

So, yes, how much money Romney has earned is our business, and to a great extent, so is what he’s done with that money. It’s the best indication of what he might do with ours.

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