President Obama and his allies have been hammering Romney relentlessly, both in television advertisements and on the campaign trail, for refusing to disclose more than two years’ worth of tax returns. They have suggested that Romney, one of the richest Americans ever to win a major party’s presidential nomination, is hiding something about his personal finances.
Romney’s disclosure Thursday came in response to a reporter’s question at a news conference that Romney had hoped would focus on a white-board presentation he gave outlining his latest attack on Obama over Medicare. Romney’s advisers insisted that the former Massachusetts governor had not planned to provide new information about his taxes but that, when asked about his tax rate, he provided an honest answer.
Romney sounded rankled by the very question, though, saying, “the fascination with taxes I’ve paid I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face.”
If the candidate hoped his answer would put the issue to rest, he ended up only inviting more questions. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt quickly challenged Romney to “prove it.”
“He has the ability to answer all of these questions by releasing several years of tax returns. He simply hasn’t done that,” LaBolt told reporters on a conference call. LaBolt noted that Romney’s father, George, released 12 years of income tax returns when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968.
In a letter to the Romney campaign Friday, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina challenged the Republican candidate to release just five years of tax returns, pledging that the Obama campaign would then stop criticizing him for not making public more of his returns. Messina said the request for Romney’s “complete returns” filed between 2007 and 2012 “is surely not unreasonable.” He said it would require the release of only three more sets of returns in addition to the 2010 tax-year return that Romney has already released and the 2011 return he has pledged to provide this year.
The additional returns would “help answer outstanding questions raised by the one return he has released to date, such as the range in the effective rates paid, the foreign accounts maintained, the foreign investments made, and the types of tax shelters used,” Messina wrote.
In 2011, Obama paid an effective rate of 20.5 percent, according to his tax returns. Americans paid an average tax rate of 17.4 percent in 2009, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office that was released last month — the lowest average rate paid since 1979 and a drop from the 19.9 percent paid in 2007.