What secrets lurk in Mitt Romney’s tax returns?

Now that Mitt Romney is making guttural noises about running for president again, Mother Jones magazine is again asking what he’s hiding in the tax returns he doesn’t want anyone to see.

Here’s what we know from what he disclosed: His income is more than $20 million a year, mostly from investments. Even without cheating, he pays lower tax rates than many middle class families, because of our dysfunctional tax codes’s very generous treatment of investment income. He stashed money in offshore accounts in Switzerland, Bermuda, and Cayman Islands (these are the ones we know about). His IRA is worth at least $100 million, and by parking it in Cayman Islands, he avoids U.S. taxes on it. All of this is legal; as Mother Jones puts it, “There is no proof that Romney’s offshore accounts are a smoking gun.”

We don’t know how much, if any, taxes he paid before 2010. That’s because during his 2012 campaign, he released only two years of tax returns — for 2010 and 2011. His tax rate in 2010 was 13.9%, and in 2011 was 15.3%, but even those relatively low rates (compared to what wage earners owe) likely are window-dressing, because as Mother Jones points out, “Romney intentionally took fewer deductions to pay a higher rate in 2011 than he had to—presumably to provide less ammo to those who assailed him as a plutocrat” and could “reclaim those deductions and get money back if he wishes.”

Although the new Mother Jones article doesn’t discuss this issue, we also don’t know what’s in his 2009 tax return, the one year’s return that no one except Romney, his wife, his lawyer, and his tax accountant — and the IRS — have seen. When Romney was considered for vice president by the McCain camp in 2008, he gave them prior years’ tax returns, which were not made public but which a McCain staffer who saw them said contained nothing “disqualifying.” But his 2009 return wasn’t in that batch (as it was still in the future), nor was it one of the two years of returns he released in 2012. Thus, no one outside his immediate family and tax advisers — and the IRS — has seen it. The significance? That was the year the IRS offered deals to thousands of rich Americans who had illegally dodged U.S. taxes by using Swiss bank accounts, after the IRS arm-twisted UBS and other Swiss banks to cough up that information. The deals were: Cooperate with the IRS, pay the back taxes and penalties, and in return the IRS wouldn’t criminally prosecute them for felony tax evasion. If Romney was one of those unprosecuted felons who took such an amnesty deal, his 2009 tax return is where it would show up. I’m not saying he was; all I’m saying is he won’t let anyone see his 2009 tax return, and that’s his right and doesn’t make him a criminal — he might be innocent.

But even after raising old questions about Romney’s tax behavior, Mother Jones isn’t done with him, and raises new questions about his post-2012 business behavior:

“In 2012, Mitt Romney’s career as a businessman who earned many millions of dollars became a net loss, as political foes slammed him for running Bain Capital, a private equity firm that invested in US companies that downsized and shifted jobs overseas and that obtained financial stakes in foreign companies that depended on US outsourcing for profits. At the same time, Romney, who refused to do a full release of his tax returns, was hit with questions (he didn’t answer) about mysterious personal investments in offshore accounts. Should he mount a third presidential effort, as he has told GOP funders he is considering, all of these issues are likely to return. But there’s another matter that will be be added to the pile of financial controversies for Romney to face: Solamere Capital, the $700 million private equity firm cofounded by his son Taggart that Romney has helped run since March 2013. Who has Romney been investing with, and what has he been investing in? These are questions that Romney 2016 will confront and that, no doubt, the firm will not want to answer.”

In other words, Romney is still a vulture capitalist, and he’s still involved in the same old behavior. Why is it relevant? Because he still wants to be President of the United States, and is planning to again ask the public to vote for him. In my view, the issue that raises isn’t whether he’s filthy rich, gets a super deal on taxes under a tax code that coddles the rich and screws wage earners, or even so much whether he’s a lawbreaker who dodged taxes that were legally owed. Rather, it goes to how he made (and still makes) his bones.

Mitt Romney was a vulture capitalist who bought companies, stripped out their assets, then flipped them. Some were failed businesses, and he can plausibly argue his role was merely akin to that of a junkyard recycler. But some were viable businesses that died as a result of through his hands, leaving behind stiffed creditors, laid off workers, distressed towns, and suppliers who no longer had a customer and consumers who could no longer buy products they wanted. Romney was indifferent to all that.

Indifferent. Do you want someone in the White House, making decisions affecting all of us, who’s indifferent to what happens to other people because of his decisions and actions? I don’t. Give me someone who puts others ahead of himself. Whatever Romney is hiding in his tax returns, his business career proves he isn’t that person. My suggestion to Mitt is: Just go away.Roger-Rabbit-icon1

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