A new thought about Mitt Romney’s tax reticence:

Huffington Post noted yesterday that Romney never released his so-called FBAR documents, special forms required from filers who have bank accounts in other countries. But the issue actually came up in a conference call back in January. Particularly about a Swiss bank account with UBS.

In that call, Romney blind trust advisor Brad Malt was asked whether Romney had “filed any and all required FBARs in a timely fashion.” To which he responded: “The people required to file FBARs are Mrs. Romney and myself, and we have filed all FBARs.”

The campaign has yet to release those FBARs. Why they’ve gotten pressed so little on it is a bit of a mystery to me.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Back in 2009, the IRS instituted a major tax amnesty program for folks who had previously secreted money in Swiss and other offshore banks. The amnesty stemmed from a settlement the US government had reached with UBS that year. Those who came forward voluntarily in the prescribed period of time could pay their back taxes, pay their fines but avoid any criminal penalties.

So, did Romney or anyone acting on his behalf or for some entity he controlled take advantage of the 2009 UBS amnesty program? You’ll note the reporter’s question flagged above asked if all FBARs were filed “in a timely fashion.” Malt didn’t address that part of the question. He just said all had been filed. So in addition to the question of the amnesty, were FBARs retroactively filed?

It’s an interesting idea, but I think that this whole thing can be explained fairly simply. While the tax returns undoubtedly include some embarrassing information, the real reason Romney is refusing to release them is because President Obama and other Democrats are insisting they do. We know that Romney’s campaign is self-consciously trying not to repeat McCain’s supposed weakness in confronting the Chicago politics of the Obama team, so it only makes sense that, the more they demand something, the more you stonewall, regardless of what it is. That’s how you show toughness, of course.*

Thing is, Romney is walking straight into a trap. It’s in Romney’s interest to appear squeaky-clean and a paragon of integrity. A clean release of tax documents and explanations for any seeming discrepancies would help repair his not all that great image. Getting a reputation for secrecy and high-handed assertions of privilege is the opposite of what he would want. Obama is already moving to attacking Romney over the Ryan Plan, an attack that will not be hindered by the argument that Romney refuses to pay his taxes, refuses to clarify his status at Bain during key years, refuses to discuss issues really at all (e.g. what he’d do in Afghanistan), and so on. We don’t know that much about Mitt Romney, Obama could argue, because he doesn’t want to let Americans know who he is and what he’s done. But there are things we do know: his corporate career was riddled with layoffs, outsourcing, profiteering off the backs of hardworking folks and predatory capitalism. He didn’t care one whit about creating a job at Bain, that wasn’t his job. And as Governor of Massachusetts, he was an utter failure at creating jobs. Romney doesn’t care about creating jobs, never has, he only cares about making money for wealthy people, even if it means screwing the American worker. Speaking of the Ryan Plan…

This is a pretty powerful argument, probably the best Obama can manage in the current economic climate. It hits a populist tone without torching the Wall Streeters whose support Obama covets too badly. It really does make Romney part of the problem, economically, the country is going through. But it’s not perfect. Obama’s campaign has been utterly ruthless in putting the pieces in place to make it happen, and to a large extent he has. What makes it smart, really, is that the weakest points in it are the ones where Romney, personally, is least likely to attack. If Mitt Romney were to release all his returns today for the past, say, six years, and take ownership of whatever landmines occupy them (“it was all in a blind trust” won’t be enough, IMO), then he can move forward saying, I released my returns, I’m being straightforward and honest with you, the public. Wouldn’t be true in a general sense, but it might be enough. But Mitt “Let’s send my bus to honk at an Obama rally” Romney thinks it’s to his advantage to be a complete horse’s ass to Obama that he can’t appreciate just how significant this point will be. Romney releasing his returns would be a minor defeat for his campaign, but unless there’s something indictable in there it won’t stick. Unreleased, Obama can rely on the power of suggestion to paint a picture, and use that picture as a key part of his re-election.

I think this explains why Republicans are jumping all over one another insisting that Mitt release his returns. The extent to which Romney is seen as sleazy is the extent to which he disqualifies himself as a contender–shadowy corporate boss plays substantially worse with the public than nonideological technocrat–and they see what Obama’s Campaign is cooking up down the road. But almost all of those Republicans are establishment Republicans, and R-Money is okay with ignoring them. Looking weak in the eyes of the Tea Party, though, is the mortal fear here as always. I wouldn’t be surprised if he mobilizes that group to defend him on this–he’s already got a start on that.

* If you’re a stupid person.

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  1. Metavirus says:

    I really don’t understand how -- after the decimation wrought upon this country by banksters and wallstreeters, and the general antipathy today toward irresponsible banksters and wallstreeters -- how the heck is a prototypical greedy wall street raider even in contention for the presidency of these united states!?? it truly boggles the mind.

    Also too, you are right-on about Mittster falling into a very smartly laid trap about his taxes. Obama 1, Romney 0.

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