Monday, July 30, 2012

Romney still being curiously secretive about his taxes

Taxes? What taxes? Huh?
I'm not sure pleading ignorance is really Romney's best defence:

Mitt Romney could not say today whether he had ever paid a tax rate lower than 13.9 percent, saying he would have to "go back and check."

In an exclusive interview with ABC News’ David Muir to air tonight on World News, Romney was asked if there has ever been a year when he paid less than 13.9 percent, the rate he paid in 2010.

"I haven't calculated that," said Romney. "I'm happy to go back and look, but my view is I've paid all the taxes required by law."

Go back and look? Please. Romney doesn't do his own taxes. He has people who do that for him -- experts, the sort of people well-versed in tax law who know how to service the needs of the super-wealthy, the sort of people who know how you get away with paying as little as possible.

But here's the key line here: "my view is that I've paid all the taxes required by law." Well, sure. He probably has... in his view. (Is he suggesting that if any laws were broken he knows nothing about that? Hmmm.)

Generally, though, no one's accusing Romney of breaking the law. He probably just took advantage of every loophole he could find -- or, rather, that his people could exploit. And therein lie the problems -- and his vulnerability:

First, that he was able to pay taxes at such a low rate. It hardly matters if it was a bit lower than 13.9 percent. The point is that his tax rate is significantly lower than the rate of most Americans (like, say, Warren Buffett's secretary). As Bloomberg put it, "Romney's 2010 tax returns and the 13.9 percent rate he paid highlight how wealthy investors can use the preferential treatment of income classified as capital gains and dividends to minimize payments to the U.S. government." It's the sort of thing that allows the rich to get richer by taking advantage of a system that benefits them almost exclusively.

Second, that he put a lot of his money in tax shelters in the Caymans, Bermuda, and Switzerland. It may not have been illegal to do so, but 

But let's get back to that first point. It may not matter much if his tax rate was a bit lower than 13.9 percent, but what if he didn't pay any federal income tax at all? Ezra Klein and Joshua Green, along with a slew of experts, have suggested that that may have been the case in 2009. Or it may have been the case from 1999-2001, as tax expert John Talbott wrote at HuffPo the other day.

Zero isn't a bit less then 13.9. It's a lot less, and it would be a political disaster for Romney. It would certainly explain why he has refused to release his tax returns prior to the last few years.

If that's the case, surely he'd know about it -- surely his people would have told him and he would remember today. You don't pay zero federal taxes and not remember.

And if that's the case, he's lying.

But of course we don't know because his tax returns remain secret. Because he and his campaign have determined that not releasing his returns and facing criticism even from friendly Republicans is preferable to releasing them and facing even harsher criticism over whatever's in them.

However much he paid in taxes, he's clearly hiding something. Something bad.

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