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Romney’s tax secrecy trouble

By Kay Bell · Bankrate.com
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Posted: 3 pm ET

Everybody gripes about taxes. But we tend to do so in general terms. "My taxes are too high" or "I paid the Internal Revenue Service way too much this year" are common complaints.

But few, if any, of us get specific.

When was the last time you heard someone say exactly how much they owed Uncle Sam? Probably never.

Taxes are inherently personal. And telling the world what you owe is akin to announcing your salary, something else we tend to keep close to the vest.

We expect, however, our lawmakers, or those who aspire to those jobs, to be more forthcoming about their finances. Some of the openness is because of required candidate disclosure laws.

When it comes to taxes, it's an entirely voluntary choice, but sharing tax returns has become so commonplace that when someone balks, especially a presidential candidate, we get suspicious.

That's the dilemma presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney is facing. He's a very rich guy who has been able to shelter not only himself but apparently portions of his income from public view over the years.

But in this new age of instant access and too much information via social media, Romney's insistence that his 2010 filing and, when it's completed, 2011 tax return are all that we will see is raising eyebrows.

The same culture that makes us expect and want to see Romney's tax data also has many folks thinking his reluctance is an indication of some shady tax maneuvers.

I doubt that. Did I mention that he's very, very rich? That means he has very well-paid financial advisers who help him take the fullest possible advantage of the many tax-saving opportunities available to high earners.

Even some prominent Republicans have advised Romney to go public with his returns. Democrats, however, aren't asking. A couple are looking to make such disclosures law.

The ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee thinks it's time to do away with the choice. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., is working on legislation to amend the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 so that it would require presidential candidates to make public 10 years of tax returns and disclose overseas accounts.

In the Senate, Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said he would look for an opportunity to introduce an amendment to an upcoming bill to require all federal candidates and members of Congress to disclose any investments in a tax haven country as part of existing disclosure rules.

The disclosure changes won't pass. Levin's bill is obviously aimed at Romney and his GOP colleagues who control the House will make sure the measure goes nowhere. The slim Democratic margin in the Senate and that chamber's rules governing how legislation is considered also will likely doom Durbin's effort.

But the proposals and their eventual defeats will be used as campaign fodder as Nov. 6 gets closer and Romney hangs on tightly to his 1040s.

Do you want to see more than just two years of tax returns from Romney?

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