Former McCain adviser: Romney taxes complex but not ‘disqualifying’

A top campaign official who worked for Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential bid and helped select his running mate said Sunday that Mitt Romney's tax returns "do not look anything like the average American," but held nothing which prevented him from being on the ticket.

Steve Schmidt, McCain's former campaign strategist, who viewed Romney’s tax returns when the presumptive nominee was being vetted for the vice presidential slot in the last cycle said Romney was an “extremely wealthy man.”

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He said Romney had turned over 23-years’ worth of tax returns to the McCain campaign to vet that were extremely complex. But Schmidt also said there was nothing in the documents that would have precluded McCain from picking Romney.

"Mitt Romney went through this process and what I can tell you is that he's a person of decency with the highest ethical character and background," Schmidt said. "There was nothing that was disqualifying. That pick in 2008 was not about any deficiency with Mitt Romney. It was a political decision that we made in a very bad political circumstance."

McCain eventually selected then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

The Obama campaign has used Romney's willingness to turn over extended tax returns to McCain — but not the American public — to knock the presumptive Republican nominee as not transparent.

“He has only released one year, to the McCain campaign he released 23 years," said Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to ABC News last week. "And he’s telling the people, ‘I’m not going to give you what I gave John McCain’s people in 2008.’ And when he gave them 23 years, John McCain’s campaign looked at it and went, ‘Let’s go with Sarah Palin.’ So whatever’s in there is far worse than just the first year.”

But Romney has defended his decision to keep his tax records private, telling the National Review in an interview last week that he doesn't want to provide the Obama team more ammunition to launch political attacks.

"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. "And I'm simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort and lie about."

A majority of Americans, including 53 percent of independents, said in a USA Today poll released Thursday that Romney should release more of his returns. 

At the same time, a plurality of voters — 47 percent — say tax returns are "largely irrelevant" when deciding who should be president. Conversely, 44 percent say it provides "legitimate information that helps voters make better decisions."