MITT ROMNEY HAS PUT HIS PERSONAL FINANCES IN A BLACK BOX AND HID THE KEY
Americans Have a Right to See the Tax Returns He Shared with the McCain Campaign
CHICAGO, IL -- Obama for America Campaign Manager Jim Messina released the following statement on today’s Washington Post report:
“Mitt Romney has asked Americans to elect him President based on his experience as a corporate buyout specialist. Each week, new questions are raised about whether he took unusual steps to avoid paying his fair share in taxes. Today’s report suggests that Governor Romney is exploiting a loophole in order to shield his assets and investments from public review.”
“Mitt Romney has put his personal financial assets in a black box and hid the key, attempting to play by a different set of rules than any candidate in recent history. In fact, Mitt Romney’s own father released 12 years of tax returns when he ran for president. President Bush released his tax returns dating back to 1991. And President Obama released his returns dating back to 2000 when he ran for president.”
“Governor Romney provided 23 years worth of tax returns to the McCain campaign so they could determine if he would make a suitable Vice President. He must meet that same standard now so that the American people may judge whether he would be a suitable President, and whether there are any conflicts of interest that could cloud his judgment.”
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, whose wealth has become a central issue in the 2012 campaign, has taken advantage of an obscure exception in federal ethics laws to avoid disclosing the nature and extent of his holdings.
By offering a limited description of his assets, Romney has made it difficult to know precisely where his money is invested, whether it is offshore or in controversial companies, or whether those holdings could affect his policies or present any conflicts of interest.
Several outside experts across the political spectrum, however, say Romney’s disclosure is the most opaque they have encountered, with some suggesting the filing effectively defeats the spirit of disclosure requirements.
“His approach turns the whole purpose of the ethics statute on its ear,” said Cleta Mitchell, a Republican lawyer who has represented dozens of candidates and officials in the disclosure process, including Romney’s leading challenger for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum.
Under pressure, Romney recently released hundreds of pages of tax returns for 2010 and estimated returns for 2011. A comparison of those returns with his federal and state “personal financial disclosure” reports and corporate filings at the SEC revealed dozens of discrepancies – and provided a window into what might emerge if Romney revealed the assets he holds in Bain accounts.
“I don’t know what legal authority exists for the federal ethics office to allow Mitt Romney not to disclose these assets,” said Mitchell, the Republican campaign lawyer. “The statute intends for presidential candidates to publicly disclose underlying assets.”
“I have never seen anything like this,” said Joe Sandler, a Democratic Party lawyer who has shepherded candidates and nominees through the disclosure process for 26 years. “Romney’s approach frustrates the very purpose of the ethics and disclosure laws,” he said.
Mitchell and several other Washington campaign lawyers say they advise candidates to reveal underlying assets, divest them if they cannot be disclosed or choose not to seek public office.
“My clients have had fund managers squawk about their ‘proprietary information’ and I’ve always been told, ‘There is no choice — the law requires disclosure,’ ” Mitchell said.
Canfield, the former Senate ethics lawyer, will not comment on Romney’s assets. But, he said, “I always counsel my clients to err on the side of disclosure” and to note on ethics forms “the same description of assets they would disclose to the IRS.” Doing so, he said, is in keeping with the spirit of the law and prevents embarrassing questions about discrepancies.
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