By Alexander Bolton - 07/18/12 12:38 AM EDT
Several Republican lawmakers prodded Mitt Romney to release additional tax returns and other financial documents in order to shift the presidential campaign debate back to the economy.
Romney has been on the defensive for the past few weeks as President Obama and his reelection team have successfully hammered him on the issue of his wealth and his lack of disclosure about it.
GOP lawmakers say transparency is usually the best policy but are careful to acknowledge the decision ultimately belongs to Romney.
“If it becomes an issue that he can’t move beyond in his own campaign, then obviously it would be important to determine to what extent he can release more,” she said.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) agreed, saying voters appreciate transparency.
“He has lots of advisers. The last thing he needs is a chorus of them, but transparency usually works,” he said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Romney had released his tax return for 2010 and an estimate of his 2011 tax obligation. Earlier this year he filed for an extension for his 2011 taxes.
The presumptive GOP nominee has said repeatedly that he won’t release any more returns, telling the National Review on Tuesday he didn’t want give the Obama campaign “more pages to pick through, distort and lie about.”
Some lawmakers defended that decision.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) noted he released only two years of tax returns during the 2008 campaign, adding that, in 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) revealed little tax information for his wife, Teresa Heinz, a multimillionaire.
McCain also firmly rejected speculation that he might have passed over Romney for his running mate four years ago because of the tax issue.
“It just shows the really gutter campaign the Obama campaign is running,” he said. “They have become a disgraceful campaign; they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Other Republicans joined him in rallying to Romney’s defense.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said former President Ronald Reagan released only one year of tax returns in 1980 and warned that Democrats would find another issue to distract voters from the sluggish economy if Romney shared his records.
“It’s not required,” he said. “Democrats are trying to use it to distract Romney from his message, but it will pass. The election will come down to who can lead the country in the future. As soon as this [controversy] is over, they’ll have another one.”
Several GOP senators said they expected Romney to release additional tax return information in the days ahead.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said he heard from a Romney campaign source recently that the presumptive GOP nominee would release more information in the coming days.
“I stand behind him regardless of what he decides to do on that,” said Lee.
The secrecy surrounding Romney’s tax filings dogged his campaign during the Republican presidential primary.
Rival Newt Gingrich frequently raised the issue, calling on Romney in January to make his financial records public. Texas Gov. Rick Perry likewise called on Romney to release his tax returns.
Democrats have been just as vocal.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week Romney could not win Senate confirmation for dogcatcher, let alone a Cabinet position. Cabinet nominees must submit three years of tax returns as part of the confirmation process.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), one of the most senior Republicans in the upper chamber, said Romney should follow precedent.
“I don’t think Romney has to do any more than presidential candidates have traditionally done,” said Grassley. “I don’t think he should be called on to do anything extraordinary other than what other presidential candidates have done.”
When asked if he thought Romney should do as much as prior presidential nominees have, meaning release more returns, Grassley said, “based upon my comment, I’d have to say yes.”
Presidential candidates over the past 30 years have released their tax returns for varying time ranges. In the recent era, the trend has been toward greater disclosure.
When then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was running for president in 2008, he and his wife, Michelle, released seven years of tax returns spanning from 2000 to 2006.
President George W. Bush released federal tax returns for years between 2000 and 2007 and made public his 1997, 1998 and 1999 tax returns during his 2000 campaign against Al Gore.
President Bill Clinton released 10 years of tax returns in July of 1990 while serving as governor of Arkansas. He released his 1990 and 1991 returns in April of 1992, ahead of the presidential general election.
In the 2004 presidential campaign, Kerry released tax forms covering years 1999 through 2003.
Other conservatives have pressed Romney to be more forthcoming.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), one of Romney’s primary rivals, said Tuesday that Romney would help his campaign by releasing additional returns.
“Politically, I think that would help him,” Paul told Politico. “In the scheme of things politically, you know, it looks like releasing tax returns is what the people want.”
Conservative columnist George Will said Romney should have shared his records months ago.
“If something’s going to come out, get it out in a hurry,” Will said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “I do not know why, given that Mitt Romney knew the day that McCain lost in 2008 that he was going to run for president again, that he didn’t get all of this out and tidy up some of his offshore accounts and all the rest.”
William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, urged Romney to settle the controversy.
“He should release the tax returns tomorrow. It’s crazy,” Kristol said on “Fox News Sunday.” “You’ve got to release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two.”