The quest for Romney’s financial records isn’t going away

The debate between the presidential campaigns about the need for Mitt Romney to disclose his financial and tax records will not end until Romney relents and becomes transparent. If his business transactions were in fact legal, even if not popular, he might persuade the American public he is the person to lead our economic recovery. If, however, he crossed lines of law or acceptable propriety, in or out of the statute of limitations, he won't survive the drip-drip-drip of inquiries and disclosures that are inevitable. As crisis manager Lanny Davis always advises, get it out and over with, or it will kill you.

The hunt is on. In a recent issue of Vanity Fair, Nicholas Shaxson examined Romney's financial history, as did the Boston Globe last week. Both investigations came up with questions requiring answers from anyone running for president of the United States. Romney’s father suggested that one year of data is inadequate because it might be a "fluke" done "for show," Shaxson reported. Mitt should take his father's advice. First, he stonewalled completely, saying he'd not show his tax records at all. Then, pushed by his incompetent gang of nomination competitors, he made one year's returns available. I understand ALL his tax records were given to 2008 presidential candidate John McCain when Romney was being vetted as a potential vice president running mate — so they are out there. Eventually, they will become public.

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Aside from the legal questions he should answer about the way he has earned, invested and reported his fortune, his demands for financial privacy raise fundamental political questions: Why is the purported savior of the U.S. economy putting his fortune (never defined) in tax havens like Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg and Bermuda? “Follow the money,” the notorious Deep Throat advised investigators Woodward and Bernstein. Voters are entitled to be nosey about Romney’s money, his family's, his pension and all the assets he has in order to understand the values of a candidate who asks for their vote.

The Vanity Fair article discloses embarrassing evidence either of Romney's blind spot about the significance of the public interest in his financial history (he puts himself forward as the right steward for economic recovery based on these skills and experiences), or his fear of what openness will show. A recent poll showed people do not resent rich politicians (JFK was rich and his wife also rode horses) but they do resent rich-guy financial hanky-panky where money is moved into foreign accounts that appear unseemly, if not crooked. Outsourcing personal fortunes won’t sit well with the American public, any more than outsourcing jobs does.

I’m not an accountant or financial expert, but one who is a sophisticated businessman, lawyer and accountant advises me thusly. “Romney has declared that he did not work at Bain after 1999. His sole employment was the Olympics. Yet it is reported that he received six-figure payments from Bain after 1999. How were these payments accounted for by him and Bain? If he was not an employee, can Bain deduct it as a salary expense? If they did and he says he didn't do any work after 1999, did Bain overstate expenses and reduce its tax liability? If these payments were a return of capital or payment for a sale of his interest, would he have a different tax liability, or maybe none? Did Bain issue a 1099 when it made those six-figure payments? Shouldn’t they have? If issued, the 1099s should have been attached to his returns for the years involved, and would indicate the purpose of payment.” These and other questions raised by my source could be answered if his tax returns and Bain's pertinent tax returns were open to public scrutiny. Just as presidential candidates are required to disclose their personal medical records when they run, so too should financial records — no one’s business in ordinary cases — be available for public scrutiny.

The investigative reporters, and surely the Obama campaign, are on the trail. Some Republican voices have urged that these records be made public. The issue will not go away. Transparency now will prove Romney’s financial history is not open to fair questioning — or it won’t. Whatever comes out, and I predict it will, he’s better off if it does now, and not between the convention and the election.

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