Epilogue—Recalling McCain and Kerry: Why isn’t Candidate Romney releasing more tax returns?
We have no idea.
Is he hiding some fact which would be a disaster? It’s possible—everything is!
But then, Romney is said to have provided 23 years of tax returns to Saint John McCain in 2008—and the two men weren’t best friends. That would have been a risky move if something in there was appalling.
Did Romney pay no federal tax in 2009? That’s possible too!
For what it’s worth, we don’t hugely care about Romney’s tax returns. We agree with one thing the hopeful has said: We already have enough information about his money to demonstrate the disgraceful role he plays in our growing plutocracy.
We already have a lot of info about Romney’s gruesome business behavior. The problem is, we also have a mainstream press corps which largely refuses to tell you those stories. (Our “liberal” news orgs aren’t much better.)
The New York Times and the Washington Post aren’t going to discuss the (legal) tax vehicles through which masters like Romney vastly increase their smothering wealth. And not only that:
People like Collins and Dowd—and Robinson and Blow—aren’t going to soil their delicate hands telling you about the ways Romney and his company, Bain Capital, “underfunded” (looted) the lives of various workers who got in their way as they hunted down Mammon.
Upper-class “journalists” of this type simply don’t care about people like that. In every single word they type, they show you their lack of interest.
For ourselves, we can’t say we hugely care about getting many more years. But this has become a cause celebre in both the mainstream press corps and the liberal world.
The line has been stated again and again. This morning, in an otherwise excellent column, Paul Krugman joins the band:
KRUGMAN (7/20/12): Like everyone else following the news, I’ve been awe-struck by the way questions about Mr. Romney’s career at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he founded, and his refusal to release tax returns have so obviously caught the Romney campaign off guard. Shouldn’t a very wealthy man running for president— and running specifically on the premise that his business success makes him qualified for office—have expected the nature of that success to become an issue? Shouldn’t it have been obvious that refusing to release tax returns from before 2010 would raise all kinds of suspicions?In the first half of this column, Krugman writes like the expert he is concerning a topic he understands well.
By the way, while we don’t know what Mr. Romney is hiding in earlier returns, the fact that he is still stonewalling despite calls by Republicans as well as Democrats to come clean suggests that it could be something seriously damaging.
But in the passage we have posted, he sounds like Ed Schultz. In our view, that’s a serious loss for the liberal world.
Voters tend to get under-informed when tribals repeat the same scripted tales. And as Krugman becomes heavily partisanized, the liberal world is slowly losing one of its most potent weapons.
Note the way Krugman starts that passage. As tribal players will always do, he assumes that “everyone else following the news” sees this situation as he does.
What a bizarre assertion! He seems to assume that “everyone else” is “awestruck” by Romney’s reactions to these topics. From there, he proceeds to the same speculations everyone else has already offered by now.
Is Romney “hiding” something in his returns? Rather plainly, there’s no way to know. But Krugman explicitly says that he is.
How can he possibly know that?
Might Romney be hiding something that's “seriously damaging?” Like everything else, that’s possible! But like tribal players through the annals of time, Krugman is able to imagine nothing else.
Krugman has become Big Ed! Whatever one thinks of Schultz’s work, that’s a loss for progressive interests.
Is Romney hiding something that’s “seriously damaging?” It’s possible, although there’s a great deal in the one tax return we have which will go undescribed due to a lack of real interest.
That said, what explains the recent demand that Romney provide us with many more years? In part, we’re observing one of our quadrennial candidate hunts, in which elite journalists select a candidate and a theme, then drive their theme into the ground.
If they have to misinform you to drive their theme, they will. They’ll do so as a group.
They engage in this process every four years. In the case of those tax returns, we’d say you are being under-informed about some of the recent precedents. Beyond that, we’d say the pack is showing a genuine lack of imagination about the reasons why wealthy candidates may want to withhold their returns.
Is Romney behaving in a strange way? Let’s start with the recent precedents, about which you have been under-informed:
The story starts in 1984 with Geraldine Ferraro. Ferraro was the first nominee who filed separate tax returns from her spouse.
On August 12 of that year, Ferraro announced that her husband, John Zaccaro, would not release his returns. This produced a storm of protest from major newspapers.
One week later, Ferraro relented. Sam Roberts reported the score in the New York Times:
ROBERTS (8/22/84): But while the couple voluntarily released six years of personal income tax returns and revealed their net worth Monday, Mr. Zaccaro declined to disclose other returns he has filed with the Internal Revenue Service, including returns for partnership and for his real estate ventures, which, according to tax experts, would have provided a more accurate picture of his total income. Candidates are not required by law to release either business or personal tax returns.Zaccaro’s net worth was only $3 million; by modern-day standards, that makes him a pauper. But it seemed a precedent had been set: The spouse of a nominee should release tax returns too.
''Our reaction is we've given so much information now that there is no need to keep going on and on,'' said Anthony Essaye, a lawyer and adviser to the Mondale-Ferraro campaign.
From there, we jump to the recent precedents, involving Candidates Kerry and McCain. Each of these nominees filed separate tax returns from his spouse. And uh-oh! In each case, the vast bulk of the family’s massive wealth was described in the spouse’s returns.
According to estimates, Teresa Heinz Kerry was worth around $1 billion. Cindy McCain was worth perhaps $100 million.
Here at THE HOWLER, we didn’t much care about those returns, but others said they did. In 2004, Heinz Kerry announced she wouldn’t release her returns. The New York Times and the Washington Post said this wouldn’t do:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORAL (5/5/04): "IT WON'T DO." That was our bottom line in 1984 when Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, balked at releasing her husband's income tax returns. "Though Rep. Ferraro says she will release her own tax return, she cannot treat her spouse as a separate entity for this purpose and still claim to be providing complete data," we wrote. Ms. Ferraro eventually relented, providing five years' worth of tax returns from her husband, John Zaccaro.Two weeks earlier, the New York Times had voiced the same view. “We hope the senator realizes that there cannot be too much disclosure by a candidate seeking the trust of the public for the nation's highest office,” the editors wrote. “With this high standard in mind, we urge that the candidate's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, release her tax returns.”
Twenty years later, in the midst of a similar controversy, we feel much the same way. Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of the putative Democratic presidential nominee, should make her tax returns public. Ms. Heinz Kerry has been reluctant to do so; campaign spokesman Michael Meehan now says she is preparing to make summary information available, though not necessarily her return itself. That's an improvement over no disclosure, but it is short of what ought to be done.
Presidential candidates aren't legally required to release their tax returns, but such disclosure has become an expected part of seeking the office, and rightly so.
There may well be nothing of great note in Ms. Heinz Kerry's tax returns other than the scope of her wealth. But with her husband seeking the presidency, her financial dealings, as well as his, ought to be as open as possible.
Then, as now, these major newspapers demanded release of returns. But in that instance, the papers got stiffed. Heinz Kerry released no actual tax returns; instead, she released two-page summaries of her returns for 2002 and 2003, waiting until October 2004 to release the second year. David Cay Johnston reported the news in the Times at that point: “Ms. Heinz Kerry on Friday released a small part of her 2003 income tax return, unlike her husband, Senator John Kerry, and President Bush and his wife, Laura, who have made their full tax returns available for public inspection.”
Should spouses release their tax returns? For ourselves, we don’t hugely care—but Heinz Kerry was worth roughly $1 billion, and she basically stiffed the good-government types calling for full disclosure. Despite this, her behavior occasioned few complaints—and sure enough! Four years later, Cindy McCain adopted an identical posture. She was worth roughly $100 million—and no, she wouldn’t release her returns, she declared in the spring.
The Post complained again, cutting and pasting from the advice they’d offered Heinz Kerry. They even fudged the facts a bit, displaying a favorite skill:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORAL (5/14/08): "IT WON'T DO." That was our bottom line in 1984 when Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York, Democratic vice presidential candidate, balked at releasing her husband's income tax returns. Ms. Ferraro ultimately relented. It was our bottom line four years ago, when Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of the Democratic nominee, refused to release her returns; Ms. Kerry relented as well. And it is just as apt now with regard to Cindy McCain's tax returns.“Ms. Kerry relented?” The editors fudged the truth a bit in service to their great cause!
For a candidate who puts a premium on transparency and ethics, John McCain has been slow and grudging in releasing tax information. He did not commit to doing so until after he had secured the nomination, and then he disclosed only two years of taxes, far less than his Democratic rivals. Mr. McCain's wife, the heir to a liquor and beer distributorship, declined to release her returns, citing—as Ms. Heinz Kerry did—her children's privacy.
Releasing tax information entails intrusion, but, as we wrote four years ago, presidential candidates and their spouses "relinquish a significant measure of privacy. Meanwhile, tax returns provide information not contained in financial disclosure forms, such as charitable contributions and the use of tax shelters." For Mrs. McCain to say, as she did on NBC's "Today" show this week, that she would never release her tax returns, not even if she were to become first lady, is unacceptable.
At any rate, the Times expressed the same view on May 19. “There is no question that Mr. McCain—the candidate—has reaped considerable benefits from his wife's wealth,” the editors wrote. “Voters also deserve to know whether any of Senator McCain's official actions have benefited his wife, family members, or their business associates, as they did in the case of Charles Keating, the Arizona developer and savings and loan operator at the center of the Keating Five scandal.”
Sure enough! Five days later, Cindy McCain adopted the amended Heinz Kerry position. She released a two-page summary of her 2006 return, saying she would do the same when her return for 2007 was completed.
She released that summary on October 17. No full returns were ever released. McCain himself released only two years of his own tax returns—though the massive bulk of the family’s wealth was detailed in his spouse’s returns.
Romney’s situation is different, of course. This year, we’re discussing the tax returns of the nominee, not those of his spouse.
But there have been three nominees in the past three cycles who were extremely wealthy. And in truth, we’re going to get more disclosure about Romney’s wealth than we got about the wealth of those earlier hopefuls.
Should Romney have known that the press would screech, as Krugman says this morning? Possibly, but the fury was slight in those earleir instances.
Kerry and McCain did release their own returns—though McCain did so for only two years, a fact which occasioned few complaints. But in each case, the vast bulk of their family wealth was found in their spouses’ returns.
Those returns were never released.
Is it possible that these precedents have guided Romney’s thinking? We have no idea, but we can imagine such a thing, along with quite a few others. In truth, there was little protest or pushback when the wealth of these past nominees went undisclosed. The Post was even willing to say that Heinz Kerry had “relented.”
Might Romney have thought that he’d get the same deal? If so, he thought wrong—but we can imagine he might have. By way of contrast, tribalized minds can imagine few things. That’s why they’re quite frequently wrong.
Beyond that, we note a fact about the very wealthy—they don’t seem to like releasing returns! Heinz Kerry and Cindy McCain each insisted they wouldn’t disclose, citing their children’s need for privacy. Romney sounds much like them—but he is being targeted in a way they (and their husbands) were not.
Do you see any actual precedent in these earlier cases? Your lizard brain will tell you that spouses don’t count. (Your lizard brain will maintain that stance until the spouse of some hopeful you hate is withholding his tax returns. At that point, your lizard will change.)
For ourselves, we will only say this: We have been struck, in the past week, by the way voters have been under-informed about these earlier nominees. In our view, the Kerry office was way out of line when it complained about Romney’s citation of Heinz Kerry’s semi-precedent.
At the Washington Monthly, Ed Kilgore excerpted what Kerry’s chief of staff said. Do you think you were fully informed? Go ahead—just click here.
We think that chief of staff was really stretching. And we think Kilgore should have said.
We will offer one final thought about Romney’s possible motives. This involves some facts about the way our campaigns work.
Yesterday, Michael Shear reported a statement by Romney in the New York Times:
SHEAR (7/19/12): [W]ith each answer he gives, Mr. Romney seems more determined than ever that voters will not see any of his tax history before 2010.However you may judge this matter, one thing is clear. If Romney does release many more years, his prediction will be accurate.
“In the political environment that exists today, the opposition research of the Obama campaign is looking for anything they can use to distract from the failure of the president to reignite our economy,” Mr. Romney told National Review on Tuesday, explaining his opposition to a broader release of his tax data. “And I’m simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort and lie about.”
Forget the Obama campaign, though they will behave as Romney described. Various entities would “pick through” those records—and in many cases, they would be looking for various things they could lie about and/or distort.
That’s the way our elites handle White House campaigns! Who doesn’t know this by now?
Of course they’ll pick their way through the pile looking for stuff they can run with. And no, they won’t be looking for things which actually matter.
They will be looking for easy columns. They will be looking for pleasing jokes. If they wanted real columns about Mitt Romney’s deeply disgraceful behavior at Bain, they could have written those columns by now.
Look all around you. They haven’t.
That is not what they would look for. They would look for shit about Romney’s dogs or about Ann Romney’s stallions. That is all these wastrels do. Your “press corps” just wants to have fun!
Your press corps doesn’t report campaigns; they pick their favorite and they start spinning. One example: As we’ve reported all week, you have been widely misled as various hacks in the so-called press pretend to be confused about Romney’s role at Bain after 1999. Your press corps has had some good fun!
Romney is a horrendous candidate. His financial history offers a rank display of the horrible morals of the Masters of the Universe.
But the simpering children of your “press corps” won’t be soiling their hand with all that. They want to sift through mountains of data looking for easy stories and columns. They won’t dirty their hands talking about the average people whom Romney has looted and destroyed.
They don’t care about those people! Correctly, they assume we won’t notice, that we don't care much ourselves.
Much of what Romney said in that statement is accurate. If he releases many more years, your “journalists” will be fed by Obama's oppo research—just as they were happily fed by the RNC all through Campaign 2000.
In part, this explains why candidates in both major parties now insist on “quote approval.” (For Kevin Drum’s treatment, click here.) They know the corps is a group of clowns. They know the corps searches for clumsy remarks, hoping for weeks of good fun.
In large part, that’s also the way they would sift through those many more years.
Romney’s career is an open disgrace. We need no more returns to know that. But your press corps isn’t trying to tell you that story! That includes our top “liberal” stars.
They simply type the stories they like, trying to avoid rocking the boat. This is the actual shape of your “discourse.”
Yo Krugman! Imagine that! Try naming real names as you do!