Over the past week, an astonishing number of prominent Republicans — including Haley Barbour, William Kristol, Michael Steele, Alabama governor Robert Bentley, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul — have publicly called on Mitt Romney to quit stonewalling on his tax returns. Adding their voices to the growing chorus this afternoon are the editors of the National Review in an editorial entitled "Release the Returns." Here's the reasoning behind their advice:
We doubt that there is anything truly surprising in Romney’s additional personal tax returns (he’s already released 2010 and will release more from 2011). We already know that he has made vast amounts of money, that he gives generously to his church and to charities, that he has set up trusts for his family, that he maintains bank accounts and investments overseas, and that he takes advantages of such benefits as are available to him under our ridiculously complex tax code. If there is scandal to be had of that, it can be had from the information that already is available. But there is no scandal in that: Romney is a wealthy man — and he has complicated personal finances, something that is typical of wealthy men. In fact, Romney’s personal finances are a very good case study in what’s wrong with the American tax system and regulatory climate.
As you can see, the National Review's editors seem to think that prior years of Romney's tax returns couldn't possibly contain any scandalous new revelations. But we find that hard to believe. In fact, the existence of something damaging in those tax returns is the only reasonable explanation for why Romney has so stubbornly broken with precedent by refusing to release them. So, what could he be hiding? We read three separate theories just today:
- After incurring heavy losses in 2008, Romney may have paid zero income taxes in 2009, according to Joshua Green at Bloomberg Businessweek. (The Obama campaign hinted at this possibility in a new TV ad.)
- At the Plum Line, tax experts tell Greg Sargent that, while the zero-tax scenario isn't impossible, it's more likely that Romney just paid "significantly lower rates in previous years." Still not a good look for a guy worth $250 million.
- And at Slate, Matthew Yglesias wonders whether Romney took advantage of a one-time 2009 IRS amnesty program for Americans who had previously failed to disclose their Swiss bank accounts to Uncle Sam.
Those are just some speculative-but-plausible examples of what kinds of "truly surprising" new information could be hidden in Romney's pre-2010 tax returns. We don't know why the National Review editors so confidently discount this possibility, but they probably shouldn't, since Romney knows what's lurking in his tax returns and they don't.