Calbuzz Consultants: Mitt’s Tax Evasion Won’t Work


While the political world appropriately called a cease-fire in the past few days out of respect for the victims of the horrific shooting rampage in Colorado, it won’t be long before partisan hostilities are once again the order of the day. Which means Mitt Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns will resurface – soon or after the Olympics – as an open wound on his presidential campaign.

Before the tragedy in Aurora, we asked our Calbuzz panel of political experts to predict what Romney would do about his taxes, to explain his reasoning and to discuss how big a deal it will be in the presidential contest.

The consensus from Republicans and Democrats alike is generally in agreement with the Calbuzz analysis – “Romney seems to have decided — for now — that whatever is in his prior tax returns is worse than the beating he’s taking for failing to release them.” Or as George Will put it: “The cost of not releasing the returns are clear. Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”

The Calbuzz California Consultanate, a panel of the smartest political pros in the business, predicts that the tax disclosure issue will not go away and, as one Republican consultant put it: “Boston is risking a character failure.” More than one panelist agreed with the Democrat who said the issue is “likely to be the deciding factor in the Romney loss.”

Ann Romney’s argument that her husband has released all the information “you people” need to know didn’t help Mitt’s cause. All it did, one Democrat argued is underscore that “He is an arrogant bazillionaire who has shown repeatedly that he has no sense of what us ‘common folks’ do with our money or why we would be astounded at what he does with his.”

Panelists were split on whether Romney will, under pressure, release further tax returns. Some said he’s dug in; others said he’ll have to disclose. Virtually every panelist said Romney would be better off releasing more returns rather than remaining on the defensive for the remainder of the campaign.

First the Republicans

— George Will is right. And he will only release 2011 in addition to 2010.  And it will be one more hit on him, but probably not decisive by itself, just not helpful as part of a narrative that includes a lot of other instances where he doesn’t relate well to ordinary folks. If people are in a strong mood to fire the coach, to quote Ann Romney, this will not make a difference.  But if they kinda like the coach and Romney doesn’t come up with a more persuasive way of saying he can do better, it could make a difference at the margin.

— I think the Obama campaign has done a good job of boxing him in, and it’s going to stay ugly until the news cycle changes.  Look for the Romney camp to make lots of attempts to change the subject. But ultimately he will be forced to give in and release additional returns. I’m not so sure there’s something specifically horrible in those returns.  It’s just that, like F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The rich aren’t like you and me.”  The tax returns of wealthy Americans do not make for good reading.

— George Will could be right but more likely it’s just Mitt’s stubbornness about privacy.  Yes, he needs to release more returns and be done with it.  No one will remember after the Olympics if he does it now.  Otherwise, Obama will turn to him in a September debate and challenge him to simply do what his father did –.release 10 years.  Boston is risking a “character” failure.

The only thing that makes sense is that George Will is correct and the Romney campaign thinks the lesser damage is done by taking the heat over not releasing all the returns. Time will tell. But my Democratic friends and those in the media who are gleeful (look in the mirror Calbuzzards) are celebrating prematurely. These are the Dog Days of Summer and this will be a very, very close and tough race for the president come November.

This guy (Romney) is Meg Whitman in a suit. Same psychosis. Same arrogance. Same sense of moral superiority (and I am not even taking into account the Mormon piece). He has only himself to blame for not taking corrective action over the last four years to clean out the Swiss bank account and clear up the offshore accounts. He now comes across as a whiny wimp. Time for him to man up, come clean and let the chips fall where they may.

— The question is obviously why is this happening at all? Mitt Romney’s been running for president since at least 2007. You would think he or his campaign leadership would have thought this one through. Even if Will is right, there needs to be some sort of explanation. As always, the cover-up is worse than the crime. He needs to come clean.

Then the Democrats

— Even though it creates gut-wrenching pain in my stomach, I have to agree with George Will.  The voters have come to the conclusion that the game is rigged against them.  It has become clear to most voters that the Wall Street-Congress-Rich People cabal is only interested in keeping the game rigged.  I think most voters also suspect that neither candidate nor his party has a solution to turn around the economy.  Only very serious, potentially game-ending information must be on his tax returns to force the Romney handlers to make decision that it is better to be on the defensive for the rest of the campaign (imagine the debates), than to take the issue off the table and get back to attacking Obama.  Surely, they must have known of this problem months ago, and yet failed to plan for it.  Unbelievable. It’s likely to be the deciding factor in the Romney loss.

— He is an arrogant bazillionaire who has shown repeatedly he has no sense of what us “common folks” do with our money or why we would be astounded at what he does with his.  He doesn’t think we have the right to know these things, it’s none of our business, and that this is just a “campaign ploy.”  The fact that every candidate has this issue come up does not impact him in the slightest . . . The damage has already been done, but he is making it worse by stonewalling. Saying it (release of more returns) will be fodder for opposition comments is more of the arrogant as well as really tone deaf nature of him as well as his staff.  This isn’t about what Obama does with it – it is his inability to think the voters have a right to know. Not to mention his sense that we “won’t understand it.” 

By itself, the tax return issue shouldn’t be an issue. Either our financial disclosure laws for candidates are good enough or they are not. If they are not, the law should change to require tax returns. But a candidate gets nothing for refusing to disclose, especially if questions about his financial dealings are already a major issue (see Whitman, Meg). John McCain was facing whispers about his age and health, so he gave reporters a look at his medical records, a far more personal disclosure, and the questions about his health stopped. Romney refusing to show his returns allows people to keep asking questions, and it confirms voters’ suspicions that Romney made his money in a way that hurt regular people. Short of full disclosure, allowing reporters to examine his tax records with no photocopies would at least make the “nothing to see here” argument credible. In order for disclosure to be worse for Romney than ongoing questions there must be years in which the Romney’s paid no taxes — which there probably are.

— I believe there is definitely something in Romney’s tax returns that he doesn’t want the public to see. The speculation is that it might involve 2009, a year in which he might have written off major paper losses against his income, and may not have paid taxes. Whatever he’s trying to hide, it’s not likely that he’s going to get away with stiffing the public. He’ll pay a price one way or the other. 

Romney’s dance on tax returns is almost identical to the one by Bill Simon in the 2002 race for governor.  Like Simon he will be forced to eventually release his returns – but by that time he will have done more damage to himself than the release of his returns ever could.  The use of the word “reasoning” is probably not correct – he seems to be acting out of emotion on the notion that “my tax returns should be private, damn it.” 

— If Mitt Romney were John McCain, I might blame it on his being plain stubborn. But Romney is far less emotional and more calculating than that. At this point, serious signs are pointing to the possibility of his partaking in the 2009 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.  And receiving amnesty for a federal crime (tax evasion) is probably a reasonable disqualifier for president.  If that’s the case, better he never release his taxes.  Perhaps Ann can continue to be the messenger on this.  After all, the “We’ve ‘given all you people need to know'” response worked so well for them today.

— The best for Democrats/worst for Romney part of his decision to extend them this year is they are now due October 15 – two weeks before the election. My theory is that there were some years (like in 2008 when the stock market tanked) that he made millions but paid next to nothing in taxes (like GE).  And if he doesn’t ever release his taxes, we’ll never know so my theory could very well be correct.

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There are 7 comments for this post

  1. avatar patwater says:

    “The voters have come to the conclusion that the game is rigged against them. It has become clear to most voters that the Wall Street-Congress-Rich People cabal is only interested in keeping the game rigged. I think most voters also suspect that neither candidate nor his party has a solution to turn around the economy.”

    This is strong stuff. But it’s hard to argue against. Moneyed interests don’t exactly discriminate based on the letter in front of a representatives name: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2008/09/money-and-votes-aligned-in-con.html

    Perhaps even more frustratingly, our political conversation talks about the financial crisis like it happened in 2008, as if the continued global banking crisis was somehow unrelated. Yet look at the panoply of expert opinions struggling to make sense of this crisis (http://mitsloan.mit.edu/finance/pdf/Lo-20120109c.pdf) and the multi-decade structural underpinnings of this crisis (http://www.dailystaghunt.com/markets/2012/3/14/deleveraging-update.html ; http://www.dailystaghunt.com/politics/2011/12/21/2011-in-charts.html )

    The Financial Times ran a great series on “The End of Artificial Scarcity” recently that tries to make sense of this twilight of financial elites: http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2012/06/08/1030801/the-end-of-artificial-scarcity/


  2. avatar smoker1 says:

    There are several things that could prevent Romney from disclosing his taxes: 1)zero taxes paid; 2) participation in the amnesty program; 3) insufficient tithing to the Mormon Church (The Presidency is one thing. Eternity is more compelling.)

    Or it could be something else. Or it could be many things. Romney has had enough pressure that if he was going to release the taxes, he would have by now. Releasing late only makes the pain more decisive.

  3. avatar Hank Plante says:

    So this means I had to show more tax returns to buy a house than Mitt Romney does to be President.

  4. avatar tonyseton says:

    MIttens and the Untamed Shrew have been pounding in coffin nails with their refusal to reveal their money plays. The comments above are clear and obvious. Romney should have fixed up his money appearance in 2008 and his failure to do so illuminates his lack of vision/planning. Maybe add greed and stupidity, along with his three missing years at Bain, and he presents himself in a light that sure doesn’t make him look like a leader.

    Of course, he could mitigate some of the damage — at least among the Obama disappointees — by calling for legislation that would take guns away from crazy people. Like the Tucson killer who couldn’t get into the Army, or the Aurora killer who couldn’t get into a gun club.

    Gawd, to have someone to vote for instead of Obama…

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      It’s entirely possible that Mitt has always relied on his dad’s money or his own to solve everything. He doesn’t know how to deal with a situation where that doesn’t hold. And he may still be right. Sheldon’s money may do the trick.

      I loved Hank’s comment about getting a mortgage. So true!

      And Meg Whitman in a suit will stick with me for a long time. A classic!

  5. avatar Noozeyeguy says:

    What I find most damning is the continued silence of anybody associated with the 2008 McCain campaign, either on the record or off. They’ve seen everything up through TY 2007; if this were all smoke and mirrors from Team Obama you’d think SOMEBODY would let something slip, if only on “deep background.” But the chorus of chirping crickets speaks volumes. I think Mr. Will has hit the proverbial nail on the head here.

  6. avatar Alan from Berkeley says:

    The only tactic left is to (pretty soon) release his (massaged-by-100-accountants) delayed return from 2011, a year in which his finances were no doubt optimized with the race in mind, and then say “See! Nothing up my sleeves!” That’ll defer the controversy for, oh, about 2.5 daily news cycles, until we return to pondering why if 2 returns are OK 10 are off limits.

    It should also be an issue that this financial-management genius is already three months late in filing for last year. Demos should be tweaking him with that just for fun.

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