Obama defines Romney

Though it might be “unseemly” and even “disgusting” — as Mitt Romney’s campaign has described it — the attack by top Democrats and President Obama’s reelection campaign against Romney’s offshore accounts has succeeded. Why? Two reasons: It changed the subject entirely from the dismal June jobs report from last Friday, and it also backed the Romney campaign into a tight, hot corner. Team Romney’s response, something they should have tackled years ago, was inadequate and poorly prepared and raised more questions about the candidate’s international banking activity than it answered. 

Questions about Romney’s overseas accounts prompted a statement from Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul that read: “The Obama campaign’s latest unfounded character assault on Mitt Romney is unseemly and disgusting. Mitt Romney had a successful career in the private sector, pays every dime of taxes he owes, has given generously to charitable organizations and served numerous causes greater than himself. Barack Obama has become what he once ran against — a typical politician willing to use false and dishonest attacks to save his job after failing to do his job.” 

Romney himself later said in an interview that he has a blind trust and doesn’t know where his money is but that all appropriate taxes are paid. Kevin Madden, another spokesman for the campaign, provided a statement to “Fox News Sunday” that read: “He hasn’t paid a penny less in taxes by virtue of where these funds are domiciled. His liability is exactly the same as if he held the fund investments directly in the U.S. As a U.S. citizen, he is accountable for U.S. taxes. Some investments in some foreign countries can be tax havens. But Mitt Romney does not hold any such investments.”

All three answers only encouraged the chorus calling for his tax returns. Refusing to release his other returns, beyond his 2010 statement and an outline from 2011, will be a challenge for Romney — particularly since his father, George Romney, released twelve years’ worth when he ran for president and Mitt Romney just gave Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 23 years of returns four years ago when he wanted to be his running mate. At the time, according to ABC News, Romney said, “I’m a bit of a packrat, so I had them all.” 

From what he has released, we know Romney pays a far lower percentage in taxes than the average American, at a rate of less than 15 percent. It is hard to believe he is parking some of his hundreds of millions of dollars overseas just to increase his legal bills. Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, said even if tax shelters are not illegal, “is not technically breaking the law a high enough standard for someone who wants to be president of the United States?”

Team Obama is working hard to discredit Romney’s best qualification for the job and to turn his business experience into a liability so voters will no longer view him as better equipped to fix the ailing economy. Polls show ads attacking Romney’s record at Bain Capital are already helping President Obama in several battleground states. Romney can defend his experience at Bain, and the risks and rewards of capitalism, but shifting money into accounts in other countries is harder to defend — it is technically betting against America. Romney will have to release his tax returns to prove what his campaign has said — that his tax liability remained the same even with offshore accounts — or stand accused of covering up something potentially disqualifying. 

President Obama is thoroughly defined, and he knows it is far too late to repackage himself. But Romney, still largely unknown, will soon need to tell his own story, because Obama is eager to do it for him.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.