Mitt Romney recently reflected on lessons he learned from his father. “He made sure my brother and I mowed the lawn, shoveled the driveway,” Romney said. “When he ran for president and his tax returns were published, it was clear he could’ve hired a landscaper. But he decided we would work with our hands.”
It struck me as an anecdote. For one thing, Mitt Romney, we now know, hired undocumented workers to do landscaping work. For another, Romney makes it sound like the release of tax returns are a routine part of running for president.
It turns out, the former one-term Massachusetts governor doesn’t actually believe that.
Romney said he didn’t intend to release his tax returns. “I doubt it. I will provide all the financial info, which is an extraordinary pile of documents which show investments and so forth.”
Pressed further on disclosure, Romney added, “I don’t intend to” release the returns.
In 2008, Barack Obama released his tax returns, and so did Joe Biden, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. Four years earlier, each of the seven major Democratic candidates released their returns, too. In 2000, Al Gore and George W. Bush both released their tax returns. In 1996, Bob Dole released his returns, and in 1992, Bill Clinton released his previous 12 years of returns.
You probably see where I’m going with this, but just to be clear, every major-party presidential nominee in the post-Watergate era has taken this step, not because they’re legally required to do so, but because they thought it was the right thing to do. (Reagan resisted for a while in 1980, but ultimately gave in.)
And then there’s Mitt Romney — he of the missing hard drives — who recently condemned the Obama White House for failing to maintain the right standards of “openness and transparency.”
Why is it, exactly, that Romney is so eager to hide the same information other modern candidates have shared? Only the candidate knows for sure, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Romney, worth about a quarter-billion dollars, makes just about all of his income from “dividends, interest, and capital gains,” which means he pays taxes at a much lower rate.
In a campaign context, that means the multi-millionaire Republican pays a lower tax rate than working families and — this is important — intends to pursue tax policies as president that would keep this advantage for people like him in place.
Romney could be more forthcoming on these facts, but he’s running for office for Pete’s sake.