Romney Tax Release Comes After Months of Pressure

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Mitt Romney's Friday release of some tax documents came after months of pressure on the Republican candidate to make public more of his financial picture.

Republicans urging further release hoped additional documents would put the issue of what Romney paid to rest.

Democrats speculated that hidden within the unreleased years were politically embarrassing secrets, with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid claiming he had been told that Romney had not paid taxes over the course of a decade.

Romney, meanwhile, maintained that more releases would lead to only more mudslinging from his opponents. Besides, he said, his disclosures so far had satisfied the legal obligations upon him.

"In the political environment that exists today, the opposition research of the Obama campaign is looking for anything they can use to distract from the failure of the president to reignite our economy," Romney said in a July interview.

The documents disclosed Friday included the candidate's full 2011 tax return, as well as a letter from his accounting firm providing a generalized look at Romney's tax rate and charitable contributions over the past two decades.

A presidential candidate's tax records are naturally subject to some scrutiny, but Romney's wealth and investment industry background, as well as his father's history with disclosure during a presidential run, have only raised the interest in Romney's tax documents.

When George Romney ran for the White House four decades ago, he released a dozen years of returns, setting what some have described as a standard for disclosure.

At a presidential debate the day before the January release, Romney said "I agree with my dad on a lot of things, but we also disagree."

Two years of returns, he added, "is more than anyone else on this stage" had disclosed.

While pressure mounted early in 2012, Romney initially sounded unsure of what he would release.

"You know, I don't know how many years I'll release," he said at a CNN debate in January.

"I'll take a look at what our documents are and I'll release multiple years. I don't know how many years, and - but I'll be happy to do that."

But since then, he has referenced Sen. John McCain's 2008 disclosure of two years as a standard, and when he released his 2010 return and an estimate of his 2011 return in January of this year, the GOP candidate vowed to follow with his full 2011 tax year documents.

But that would be the extent of the disclosure, the campaign has maintained.

The January 25th release came after several Romney's Republican rivals for the presidential nomination called for greater disclosure and days before the January 31 Republican primary in Florida.

Ahead of the January 21 South Carolina primary, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich released his 2010 tax documents and called for Romney to follow suit.

"Governor Romney, if he plans to stay in the race, ought to plan to release his records," Gingrich said on NBC.

He suggested that holding off on a release could lead to an unpleasant surprise for the GOP shortly before the election, should something embarrassing be in Romney's files, and should it emerge shortly before the November election.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul said at a CNN debate in January that he would "be embarrassed to put my financial statement up against their income."

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, who eventually released four years of returns, made a point of doing his own tax returns when asked when his disclosure would come.

"Well, I do my own taxes and they're on my computer and I'm not home," he said at the same January 19 CNN debate.

"There's nobody at home right now. Until I get home, I won't get them. When I get home, you'll get my taxes."

And Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for Romney to disclose additional returns both during his own bid for the GOP nomination and after he exited the race in mid-January.

"I'm a big believer that no matter who you are or what office you're running for, you should be as transparent as you can be with your tax returns and other aspects of your life so that people have the appropriate ability to judge your background and what have you," he told reporters in July.

The issue bubbled up over the summer, including after the candidate said in a late July interview that he had been audited.

A spokesman for Romney added at the time, "the audit did not result in a fine or penalty."

Romney acknowledged paying a federal income tax rate of no less than 13% over the last ten years in an August press conference.

As the issue reappeared in headlines, conservative commentators called for greater transparency from the Republican candidate.

George Will said that Romney was losing out politically on the matter.

"Mitt Romney is losing at this point in a big way. If something's going to come out, get it out in a hurry," he said in an interview with ABC News.

"He's done nothing illegal, nothing unseemly, nothing improper, but lots that impolitic. And this is - and he's now in the politics business."

Mary Matalin, another conservative commentator and also a CNN contributor, countered that Americans "don't care about his taxes. They care about their own taxes."

Others, including Romney surrogate and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, as well as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus similarly described the issue as a distraction.

Former Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi walked a line between those two positions, saying in an interview on CNN's "The Situation Room" that he would release more than two years of documents were he in Romney's position.

"But should it be an issue in the campaign?" Barbour continued. "I don't think it amounts to diddly."

Republican strategist Matthew Dowd said in July that Romney "must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them" than keeping the documents private.

Several right-leaning publications also opined in favor of greater releases from Romney.

"Romney may feel impatience with requirements that the political culture imposes on a presidential candidate that he feels are pointless (and inconvenient)," read a piece in National Review.

"But he's a politician running for the highest office in the land, and his current posture is probably unsustainable. In all likelihood, he won't be able to maintain a position that looks secretive and is a departure from campaign conventions. The only question is whether he releases more returns now, or later – after playing more defense on the issue and sustaining more hits."

The New Hampshire Union Leader said that Romney position "creates the impression, justly or not, that there is something there to hide."

"No escaping that reality. The impression is there. And it will cost Romney votes he cannot afford to lose," the paper continued.

"Those voters might not cast their ballots for Obama, but not voting can be just as damaging. And yes, for using the tax dodges and loopholes legally available to him, he might lose votes as well."

The editorials from conservative papers came as other outlets dug into the business dealings of Bain Capital. One report described "pioneers in the practice of shipping work from the United States to overseas" companies.

Another accused him of being "willing to push into gray areas when it came to business."

These reports made their way into Democratic ads, while Romney's campaign generally objected to and pushed back against the reports.

Then, Democrats stepped forward with an offer.

"If the Governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more-neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina wrote in a letter to Romney's campaign manager.

The Romney campaign's response: Thanks, but no thanks.

"It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney's tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending," wrote Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades in reply.

An anonymous group said earlier in September that it had obtained copies of prior Romney tax returns and threatened to release them should a ransom not be paid by September 28, next Friday.

Romney's financial firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, said it was cooperating with the Secret Service but added "there is no evidence of unauthorized access to our data."

While the Friday release seems unlikely to put to rest Democratic criticism of Romney's finances, surrogates for the GOP candidate said in statements released by the campaign that it was time to move on.

"Mitt Romney has now released more than 1,200 pages of tax returns, giving voters an incredibly detailed look at his finances," Sen. John McCain said.

"Now that the most recent tax return has been released, it's time to get back to discussing the issues that voters care about. While President Obama and Democrats will try to distract voters, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are focused on fixing the economy, getting Americans back to work and ensuring a better future for our children and grandchildren."

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