Brass Tax

Willard Mitt Romney is quite convinced that the contents of a person’s tax returns are defining evidence of their character. He is equally insistent that he does not want anyone to see his own. It would be remiss to assume there is no connection between the two beliefs.

Daily Kos: Open thread for night owls: The Great Mittsby.

Although I agree that Romney’s elitism and apparent failure to understand basic statistics about the economy are fair game, it’s also the case that gaffe-fixation is a lousy way to run an election. The tax return question seems more substantive to me: Just what is Mitt Romney hiding? Why are the Romneys adamant that they will not release the traditional number of annual tax returns?

The three most plausible guesses I’ve heard so far are:

  • Romney did a stint as a 47%er — there’s a year in which he paid either almost no tax at all, or no income tax at all. Since he had years with no salary but large capital gains, this seems highly likely — but is it nearly embarrassing enough to take all this grief for non-disclosure?
  • Romney had some run-in with the IRS and had to pay back taxes for participation in some complex tax avoidance scheme even the IRS couldn’t stomach. Not an uncommon event for people who engage in high-stakes tax avoidance behavior, but it doesn’t look good — especially if it involved participation in a scandal with a name like Son of Boss.
  • In some year Romney’s residence for tax purposes differed from his residence for electoral purposes — highly embarrassing and probably illegal. Just heard this one recently, don’t know what to make of it.

Got any other good ones?

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7 Responses to Brass Tax

  1. Vic says:

    The fourth most plasuble guess is that there’s nothing to see, but he just doesn’t feel like playing along with the same old game.

    This is a prime reason why many very smart and capable people will never run for office. It’s simply turned into a circus of gotchas and not everyone thinks it’s an acceptable way to elect our leaders. Maybe he’s just trying to step off this crashing train.

    Personally, I would be very surprised if someone like Romney actually had any secret in his taxes that went deeper than he paid his taxes as legally required, but got deductions that the average joe doesn’t. Big deal. That’s a question for those who write and maintain the tax code, not Romney. I seriously doubt a guy who gives 14% of his income to charity, largely for religious reasons (as do many Mormons), is a closet felon. This is a non issue.

    Meanwhile, the war in Afganistan rages on with no Presidential interest in stopping the killing, the First Amendment is being rewritten to apply some sort of skewed standard that amounts to a “when we feel like it” exception, and the President has stated that Washington, in fact, can’t be fixed from inside. So there’s probably ACTUAL issues to consider before we brand Romney a super criminal in abstentia.

  2. C.E. Petit says:

    I’d be far from surprised to find out that one or more of the years in the “traditional” ten-year window that Romney wants to keep confidential has a truly significant later- (probably much-later-) filed amendment. That would itself lead to three questions:

    (a) How could you not know at the time it was filed?

    (b) If you were relying on someone else (an accountant, a lawyer, whomever) to do it for you, what does that say about your judgment of minions’ competence?

    (c) What else is lurking in there that you haven’t disclosed, especially if the amendments hint in any way at foreign accounts?

  3. Altoid says:

    I think we have to start with a couple of preliminary observations. First, that romney evidently has believed he should be acclaimed president by right (the premise of his campaign). Second, a possible consequence but also clear in its own right, is that he’s completely tone-deaf about how anyone who’s not him might receive anything he says, does, or gestures at.

    His complete inability to even approach how other people might think is revealing itself to be pretty remarkable. He’s not a politician in the usual sense and never has been. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t played the angles and pulled strings and maintained political ties and all that, but in current terminology he’s never had even a remote clue about the optics of what he does. So although in some public ways he’s been positioning himself to run for this office for at least a decade, his financial life has remained that of the man of rootless wealth.

    We also know, per reports from people who have reviewed his 2010 return and from some other sources, that his accountants have been far more than usually aggressive about minimizing his tax liability, beyond the norm for others in his line of work and at his level of income and estate. The suggestion has been made that he may have come up with some of these minimizing methods himself. So he really, deeply cares about this.

    So maybe he doesn’t want to give away his minimization techniques to anyone else for free? When I started this line of thinking I wanted to say I’m only half-serious about it, but the more I think about it the more it seems there might be something to it.

    And we can go back to what he’s said about not wanting to give ammunition to the opposition. Maybe, now that we’ve seen the Florida tape, we should interpret that in light of the extreme paranoia and defensiveness we’ve recently been seeing from really rich people, like some of the bankers, or like romney and his donors there. Something like a reflex, in the sense that Thurston Howell wouldn’t let Gilligan have a list of his assets, now would he? How could someone like Gilligan possibly understand the responsibility and burden it represents?

    Plus I like C E Petit’s suggestion that the returns have been amended. We know he already did this once when his Massachusetts residency came under question. So that certainly could be. And if not for residency or some other technical reason, or for legal compliance, then most likely to restate income or claim some substantial new deductions. Nobody would file an amended return freely in order to pay more, certainly not this guy. About the only thing I could imagine him being sensitive enough about, to the point that he might actually see it on his own as possibly damaging, would be an amended return that got him a really honking big retroactive refund.

    And that’s about the best I can do, I’m afraid.

  4. Vic says:

    Even accepting the premise that he took advantage of every deduction available to him, even some not taken advantage of by other rich folks – so what? Is that illegal? No, it’s a possibility created by the very body empowered to decide what is federally legal and illegal. Is it an action encouraged by no less a body than the U.S. Supreme Court? Yes, they’ve stated that every taxpayer has the right and freedom to do this. If he amended his filings, is that illegal? No, it is the very process set up by our Government for corrections. The point being, even assuming this is what happened, Romney is not the issue, our tax code is. If you don’t like that rich people are able to do things you can’t, then scream about the tax code, not his money! This is just sillyness – especially since we have no real idea that there is even smoke, much less a fire.

    Look, politicians are largely a group of self-serving slimeballs. But even when I disagree with him politically, I seriously doubt that Romney is guilty of much of anything that is even vaguely interesting. Bob Dole was probably an arch-villain compared to Romney.

    Aside from any of that, the Democrats have long since given up their right to call anyone out on the moral failings, even if they exist, of others. There is a long history of hypocritically forgiving any failing for the sake of the Party among Democrats. Failings that Liberals in other settings find repugnant. Failings far worse than the “crime” of doing what Congress specifically allows.

    Romney will rise of fall on real issues, not this garbage.

  5. Altoid says:

    One word, Vic: optics. Not plastic, optics. Which reportedly, for romney’s dad, was also a moral matter. But you’re right, if the guy’s got the mega-milliions, he certainly has the right to pursue whatever legal ways he can find to fork over as little as possible to Uncle. I do want to add that, as least as far as I’m aware, this approach to handling income and holding wealth is not usually associated with people who also aspire to become the nation’s most visible and responsible political actor; much more, rather, with people who regard government with disdain and distrust, as the meddling enemy. But as you say, it’s his right, and a lot of politicians do unseemly things, so let that go. And any suggestions of illegality that were made above were really relatively minor.

    Since it comes down to issues, here are a few. One, he really seems to be a creep, and most people who’ve spent any time with him in person seem to have had that reaction. It can be hard for other people to work effectively with creeps when they’re aiming to do more than make money for each other. Two, he seems utterly incapable of understanding anyone else’s point of view, or that anyone else could even have a point of view that isn’t his own; this doesn’t augur well for constructive relations with other domestic stakeholders or with other heads of state. Third, what he and ryan want to do– as far as anyone can tell from the little they’ve offered by way of specific policy-enactment goals– would be profoundly destructive to the nation, to individuals, and to our relations with the rest of the world.

    Other than that, I’m sure he’d be great.

  6. Vic says:

    Baselss ad hominem aside, we now have SEEN his taxes and found that he actually paid MORE tax than legally obligated and paid far, far more to charity than either of the Dem candidates.

    So clearly he’s a creep who is hiding something…

    Why can’t you just accept that just because you don’t like the guy’s politics, it doesn’t mean he’s a criminal mastermind child molester who kicks dogs for fun?

  7. David says:

    A theory I’ve heard floated, but I don’t know how legitimate it might be, is that it’s because he hasn’t been giving the full 10% tithe that the Church of LDS expects.

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