If I were Romney, I would publish the tax returns that his political opponents are clamoring for…but not because he has a duty to do so; but only to get this issue behind him. And I wouldn’t do it in the way they request.
I respect his right to privacy about his returns. We all should. We should understand that he is already complying with the existing laws relating to disclosure. If the degree of disclosure is not enough to satisfy legitimate needs for understanding better his financial circumstances, then change the law and make more extensive disclosure mandatory. But, meanwhile, it would probably be good, as a political expedient, to volunteer to do more than is now actually required.
And, I believe that there are ways to do that that will not compromise his and his family’s legimate privacy interests.
But, first, a comment on the apparently malicious, or at least ignorant, charge or innuendo that his acknowledged holding of overseas accounts must mean that he is somehow avoiding the payment of appropriate US taxes. It is fundamental that all US citizens must pay income taxes on all income, from anywhere in the world. If Romney were using foreign accounts to avoid paying proper US taxes, he would be, already, in very serious violation of the taxlaw and would no doubt be disqualified from any political candidacy. The continued implication of this wrongdoing, and the glee with which the media reports and repeats it, is shameful. The only excuse would be that the accusers are truly ignorant of this fundamental principle of taxation of worldwide income and ignorant of the many legitimate reasons for persons of even modest wealth to pursue the protections offered by certain overseas jurisdictions. Many medical professionals, for example, maintain “asset protection” accounts in places like Switzerland or the Caymans as a way of shielding those assets from the scrutiny of opportunists (but not from the scrutiny of the IRS) and from the claims of unjustified creditors. But no US citizen can, legally, use them to avoid income taxation of the income they may generate. If knowingly false accusations would be shameful, the alternative of ignorance is nearly as bad.
So, here’s what I would do if I were Romney: enlist a small group of impeccably highly qualified persons (say, the heads of the personal income tax practice at each of the Big 4 accounting firms) to review the returns and then report, publicly, their findings on two points:
- had there been any illegitmate manipulation of the tax law?
- had the Romneys taken advantage of tax planning any more agressively than they would have condoned for any of their similarly situated clients?
If the answers to both questions is “no”, that should put an end to this inquiry, without further violating the Romney’s rights to privacy. If the answer to either question is “yes”, then, the very negative political outcomes may be only one of Romney’s problems.