Posts Tagged ‘Tax Returns’

By now, most people are familiar with the story of Seamus, Mitt Romney’s Irish Setter. But now the Democratic National Committee is using Rafalca, his Ann Romney’s Olympics-bound showhorse in a web ad hitting him on the tax returns controversy:

The ad somewhat reminds me of the famous John Kerry windsurfing ad created by the George W. Bush re-election campaign during the 2004 race.

On a related note:

“This election is starting to look enough like 2004 that Karl Rove should be demanding royalties from the Obama campaign, and others may conclude that no presidential campaign should ever again be based in Boston.”
Charlie Cook, National Journal, July 16, 2012

Update: You knew this was coming… Somebody created a parody @RafalcaRomney Twitter account.

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Looks like the Bain and tax returns attacks finally got under Mitt Romney’s skin. Buzzfeed reports:

In speeches from Des Moines to Dallas, Romney has always been careful to hedge his tough digs at Obama with a civil nod toward the president’s moral character: “He’s a nice guy,” the Republican has often said. “He just has no idea how the private economy works.” But Tuesday’s speech included no such hedge — and one campaign adviser said there’s a reason for that.

“[Romney] has said Obama’s a nice fellow, he’s just in over his head,” the adviser said. “But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond that pale that he’s really disappointed. He believes it’s time to vet the president. He really hasn’t been vetted; McCain didn’t do it.”

Indeed, facing what the candidate and his aides believe to be a series of surprisingly ruthless, unfounded, and unfair attacks from the Obama campaign on Romney’s finances and business record, the Republican’s campaign is now prepared to go eye for an eye in an intense, no-holds-barred act of political reprisal, said two Romney advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the next chapter of Boston’s pushback — which began last week when they began labeling Obama a “liar” — very little will be off-limits, from the president’s youthful drug habit, to his ties to disgraced Chicago politicians.

“I mean, this is a guy who admitted to cocaine use, had a sweetheart deal with his house in Chicago, and was associated and worked with Rod Blagojevich to get Valerie Jarrett appointed to the Senate,” the adviser said. “The bottom line is there’ll be counterattacks.”

The reference to Obama’s past drug use seems to suggest that former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu wasn’t going off-script after all when he dinged the president for spending “his early years in Hawaii smoking something” during a Tuesday morning Fox News appearance.

After last week’s twofold controversy over his tenure at Bain Capital and his tax returns, Mitt Romney is facing two difficult choices: deal with the existing bad optics of the situation, or create a new set of optics which could be even more difficult to deal with.

If Romney keeps refusing to release his tax returns – which looks especially bad for him considering the precedent set by his own father during the 1968 campaign – the Obama campaign can keep the story alive. If he does release them, he will look weak for having caved to pressure from the Obama campaign, especially considering that Team Romney has demanded retractions/corrections for stories from the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, and an apology from the Obama campaign for Stephanie Cutter’s comments about Romney possibly committing a felony. Romney’s demands for all three were turned down.

Setting aside the questions about outsourcing, offshoring, and when he left Bain on paper and/or in practice, the question everybody is asking is why would Romney continue to withhold his tax returns? James Fallows and John Cassidy offer some possible explanations, which can be broken down into three theories:

  • The returns could reveal what a Fallows reader describes as “a shocking level” of tax avoidance.
  • The existence of more offshore bank accounts, which could give the Obama campaign more ammunition.
  • What Cassidy calls “politically explosive investments,” which could anger or energize the right and/or the left. Some possible examples would be if Romney directly benefited from Bain investments like some that have already been reported, such as companies that specialized in outsourcing jobs, or Stericycle, the biological waste company that specializes in disposing of aborted fetuses.
  • Questions of how Romney accumulated potentially as much as $100 million in his Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

On top of that, the Obama campaign recently hit Romney with what is probably one of the most memorable and powerful attack ads from the last decade, if not longer. Unfortunately in politics, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. The Romney campaign responded with its own ad which set a series of headlines to Obama’s performance of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” The ad can’t be linked to or embedded because it was taken down from YouTube following a copyright claim by BMG.

The sustained attacks on Romney’s business record are clearly having an effect on the overall dynamics of the race and the national discourse. Searches for Bain Capital have increased on Google. Particularly worrisome from the Romney campaign’s perspective is the fact that of five out of the top ten locations where these searches are traced to come from key swing states (Ranked in numerical order: Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina. If you consider Arizona a swing state up for grabs this year, then six out of the top ten locations are swing states.) References to Bain Capital have also increased on Twitter. In other words, people are paying attention.

Romney has also been on the receiving end of rough criticism and second-guessing in the press. Check out this column by National Journal’s Charlie Cook, and this one by Business Week’s Josh Green, reviving Newsweek’s infamous “wimp factor” story from the 1988 campaign and turning it on Romney.

On the other hand, it is worth keeping in mind that Romney’s refusal to release the tax returns could be more damaging than whatever might be in the documents themselves. Remember John Kerry’s repeated refusal to release his Standard Form 180 in response to demands from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth back in 2004? By the time he actually got around to doing that a year after the race, the records essentially confirmed/upheld the historical facts of Kerry’s military service and didn’t have any damning or damaging revelations. Ultimately, the tax issue is a problem of Romney’s own making, no matter how many questionable excuses (John and Teresa Heinz Kerry) he offers to justify his position of nondisclosure.

There is no easy solution for this, regardless of what Romney ultimately decides. The basic question he has to answer on whether or not to release more tax returns is if he prefers the devil he knows or the one he doesn’t.

Update: Unrelated to the tax returns issue, but still worth noting… The New York Times reports that Mitt Romney’s name and/or signature has come up in 142 documents during the period between 1999 and 2002, raising questions over when/if he left he had severed ties with or ceded control of Bain Capital during this period while he was running the Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The Obama campaign released this simple but brutal ad yesterday: A series of headlines from recent weeks about Romney’s tenure at Bain, outsourcing jobs, and use of offshore tax havens, set to audio of Romney’s off-key performance of “America the Beautiful” at a campaign event in Florida last January. TPM’s David Kurtz compares this ad to the Lyndon Johnson campaign’s now legendary “Daisy” ad from the 1964 election.

The Atlantic’s James Fallows appeared on NPR yesterday to discuss the ad, and during the course of that conversation, the comparison was made between what Obama is doing to Romney now to what the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Republican operatives did to John Kerry’s military record in Vietnam during the 2004 Election. An excerpt from that conversation:

FALLOWS: It has. And I think it’s worth focusing on why this is such a potential problem for the Romney campaign. The entire reason behind his campaign through the last year in the Republican primaries and now in the next four months in the general election is that America has business problems. He is a businessman, therefore, he’s the right person for the job.

And what the Obama campaign is doing on the basis of this Bain imbroglio is something similar to what George W. Bush was doing to John Kerry back in 2004 in the episode known as swiftboating. And by that, I mean making something that a candidate has assumed to be his strength, which, in John Kerry’s case was his military background, into a weakness.

RAZ: And so if the Obama campaign can make Mitt Romney’s business background not the presumed basis of his campaign, but instead a source of controversy, a source of potential weakness for him, that really does make problems in the campaign for the Romney team.

So if the Obama campaign is swiftboating, as you say, Mitt Romney – I mean, one of the criticisms of John Kerry was that he didn’t respond to this back in 2004, and Romney is only started to respond to it.

FALLOWS: Exactly. And I should make clear, in saying swiftboating, I’m not asserting that these are false accusations. I’m just saying they have this jujitsu effect. And it’s actually surprising the Romney team is not better prepared for them than it is. Number one, because they’ve had the last eight years since the John Kerry episode. Number two, over the last year, this is what Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and others were using as their angle of attack on Mitt Romney’s business background too.

Fallows’s analogy of the Bain attack being political jiujitsu by turning a candidate’s strength into a potential liability is correct. However, there are a few other reasons why the swiftboating analogy is not accurate here that are worth pointing out (Full disclosure/background: I reviewed hundreds of pages of military records for Kerry and others while working at CNN during the course of the Swift Boat controversy as it was playing out in 2004.)

  • After having reviewed multiple incident reports and service records obtained independently through Freedom of Information Act requests, documents filed contemporaneously at the time backed Kerry’s version of the events, every single time. In other words, the underlying basis for challenging Kerry’s service record was entirely false. In Romney’s case, independent reporting of multiple news organizations, as well as Bain Capital’s SEC filings and his 2002 testimony before the Ballot Law Commission in Massachusetts are the basis for questioning his version of events.
  • The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were an independent 527 group. This ad – and the entire strategy of attacking Romney’s record at Bain – was a direct hit organized by the Obama campaign.
  • Romney was attacked for his Bain record during the 2012 Republican primaries. He could have put a lot of these issues to rest if he had put the information out there months ago. Kerry’s military service was never challenged during the Democratic primaries, and did not become an issue until the Swift Boat group started running ads shortly after Kerry accepted his party’s nomination.
  • His continued refusal to release tax returns beyond 2010 is also compounding the problem. Also consider that when Romney was being vetted to be John McCain’s possible running mate back in 2008, he gave the McCain campaign 23 years’ worth of tax returns. Even though his tax returns and the end of his tenure at Bain are two completely separate issues, the Obama campaign has effectively joined them together at the hip. In this respect, Romney’s response is similar to Kerry’s refusal to release his full personnel and medical file (Standard Form 180) back in 2004.

The Obama campaign has effectively turned Romney’s record in the private sector – in his words, one of the main reasons why he should be elected president – into a liability. However, after looking at everything the Swift Boat campaign did to John Kerry, the analogy should end there. Romney’s current problem is almost entirely of his own making – the conflicting answers he’s given in the past and last week, as well as the SEC documents and his own refusal to release more tax returns.

Update: Business Insider compares Romney’s handling of the Bain questioning to Bill Clinton’s infamous and widely mocked “the meaning of the word ‘is'” during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Update II: Fallows has written a blog post elaborating on his swiftboating comments during the NPR interview. The whole thing is worth a read.

Update III: Another Kerry 2004/Romney 2012 comparison that has nothing to do with swiftboating –  both candidates used the same slogan, “Believe in America.”