Analysis: Release of 2011 taxes unlikely to mollify Romney critics

In releasing his 2011 tax return and two decades of summary information, Mitt Romney bowed to pressure from his Republican rivals and, more recently, Democratic foes. But the matter seems far from settled, despite efforts by the Romney campaign to suggest — almost immediately after the voluminous materials were made public — 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,” Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee, said in a statement issued by the Romney camp. “Now that the most recent tax return has been released, it’s time to get back to discussing the issues that voters care about.”

Not surprisingly, Democrats disagreed. They were quick to demand more information, even though the most incendiary charge — an unsubstantiated assertion the Republican presidential hopeful had gotten away with paying no taxes — was debunked by the information put out Friday.

President Obama’s campaign issued a statement demanding answers to more than a dozen follow-up questions, involving Romney’s overseas investments, the amount of foreign taxes he paid and his ties to Bain Capital, where he made his personal fortune and — depending on the telling — did or did not preside over massive layoffs at the companies he helped retool.


Even as reporters and tax experts pored over the thick cache of documents, many were quick to note that Romney actually paid more taxes than required after taking a smaller deduction than permitted for charitable contributions. That allowed him to comport with a statement he paid at least 13% in federal income taxes in each of the last 10 years, but also contradicted something else he has said: “I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more. I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.”

Michele Davis, a Romney spokeswoman, sought to reconcile the two statements.

“He has been clear that no American need pay more than he or she owes under the law,” Davis said. “At the same time, he was in the unique position of having made a commitment to the public that his tax rate would be above 13%. He directed his preparers to ensure that he is consistent with that statement.”

Romney’s tax returns first became an issue during the bitterly fought Republican primary season, when rivals assailed the former Massachusetts governor for refusing to release more than his 2010 tax return, which he issued in January. Opponents noted that Romney’s father, George, had made public a dozen years of returns when he ran for president in 1968.


After weeks of criticism, Romney pledged to release his 2011 return by election day. But that failed to mollify Democrats, who quickly took up the attack once the GOP race ended, making Romney’s private tax records the centerpiece of a campaign questioning his business ethics and personal probity.

By releasing the information he did, Romney can tell voters he “paid his fair share,” said political analyst Julian Zelizer, and say Democrats pressing for more information are simply engaged “in a fishing expedition.”

“That’s the most obvious upside,” Zelizer said. But, he added, there are enough unanswered questions surrounding Romney’s tax history that the matter will not go away anytime soon.

“If Democrats want to make an issue of it and continue with it, which I think they will, they can,” said Zelizer, a political history professor at Princeton.


The politically important question is whether anyone besides Democrats and Romney’s critics care, and that awaits a fresh round of polling and voter interviews.

Twitter: @markzbarabak