Romney must settle tax-return issue

The request for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to release his tax returns is not “small-minded.” It’s a test of whether Romney believes he plays by a different set of rules than other people, and whether American voters will give him their trust.

It was Romney’s father, George, who set the standard during his own presidential run in 1968 by releasing 12 years of tax returns. Every presidential candidate since has lived up to that measure of financial transparency.

Romney should make his tax returns public. His current position is unsustainable because his refusal to disclose only fuels speculation that he has something deadly to hide.

Why else would the candidate continue to allow his opponent’s supporters to paint him as an untrustworthy, tax-dodging plutocrat?

Romney says he has never paid less than a 13 percent rate in income taxes over the past 10 years. But he refuses to make the tax documents public, and gives no explanation why.

Even some of his longtime supporters, such as Jon Huntsman Sr., and other prominent Republicans have called on Romney to disclose. The consistently conservative newspaper The Wall Street Journal said, “Romney should have released his tax returns long ago.”

Romney is allowing his critics to fill in blanks, creating all kinds of conjecture about legally questionable accounting tricks and strange tax shelters, and causing people to envision damaging information the returns might prove.

Articles in business publications have speculated that when the stock market crashed in 2008, Romney lost enough on paper to declare a loss and pay no taxes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is claiming, without offering tangible proof, that Romney hasn’t paid taxes for a decade.

If none of this is true, and he has nothing to hide, Romney could clear all this up quickly by simply releasing the tax returns. Until he does, people will continue to imagine that they contain something truly devastating.

People already know that Romney is rich. It has been well-documented that he owns several houses, luxury cars and boats, and has amassed a $250 million fortune.

And it has already been revealed, in the one set of documents Romney has released, that the candidate has sheltered a lot of his money from taxes in a Swiss bank account, a Cayman Islands account and an offshore investment in a Bermuda shell company.

The candidate’s wife, Ann, has said that releasing tax returns “will only give them (her husband’s opponents) more ammunition. There’s nothing we’re hiding.”

If that’s true, it would benefit the Romney campaign to release the returns, respond to whatever charges arise, and move the debate on to issues it considers more important.