Mitt Romney released his tax returns to put to bed discussions of his wealth and lack of transparency. Instead, they have only spawned more unanswered questions.
Thursday afternoon, the LA Times reported that Romney’s tax returns listed 23 funds and partnerships that did not appear on Mitt Romney’s personal financial statements — the disclosure forms candidates are required by federal law to file with the Federal Elections Commission. Romney filed his disclosure forms in August 2011. The timing of this revelation couldn’t be worse. Hours before a GOP debate and days before the crucial Florida primary, Democrats now have new fodder for demanding additional tax return information from the Romney campaign.
Democrats are using the discrepancies to call on Romney to release all his tax returns from years in which he filed public financial disclosure statements. On a conference call with reporters, DNC spokeswoman Melanie Roussell stressed the importance of these newest revelations, saying they show what Mitt Romney was trying to hide on his regular disclosure forms. Roussell’s charge that the LA Times “found what it looks like he was trying to hide” is based on the fact that the of the 23 funds and partnerships left off the disclosure, 11 were overseas investments in funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda as well as the already-notorious Swiss bank account the Romney’s closed in 2010.
Further, Romney staked his credibility on these forms. As Roussell pointed out on the conference call: “This is the form that Mitt Romney has been using for months, and years in fact, since he ran for the Senate, as an excuse not to release his tax returns in the first place.” It’s a potent argument; why trust that one year of Romney’s tax returns are sufficient if they revealed new information? That’s the crux of Democrats’ argument that they now need all returns corresponding to past disclosures.
Politically, hiding offshore investments and accounts is a liability, but there’s also a legal aspect to the discrepancies. “All candidates for federal office are required by federal law to list their assets on this personal financial disclosure form,” explained Roussell. “This is a big deal,” Roussell stressed, “I want to make sure people understand.”
Romney’s failure to include the information about the Swiss bank account could have legal consequences, but only under one condition: if he deliberately left such information off the form, an election law expert tells TPM.
Lying to the FEC is crime, but proving that Romney decided to purposefully omit the information (if he did) would be a pretty high burden to meet. There’s been nothing to indicate so far that Romney did anything more than make a mistake on a complicated government form. But if Roussell’s allegations are correct — and it’s proven that the omission of offshore accounts and investments, as well as investments connected to Bain Capital were left off purposefully, for political reasons — then Romney is in trouble legally. Obviously that’s a big “if.”
The Romney campaign has confirmed that it will be updating the public financial statements to reflect the information on Romney’s tax returns. Spokespesrson Andrea Saul also released a statement stressing that the errors are “of a minor technical nature”:
The inescapable fact is that by releasing over 600 pages of information regarding his finances, Mitt Romney is clearly coming down on the side of disclosure. Any document with this level of complexity and detail is bound to have a few trivial inadvertent issues. We are in the process of putting together some minor technical amendments, which will not alter the overall picture of Gov. and Mrs. Romney’s finances as disclosed in August.
For now, at least, Romney’s tax return nightmare continues.
Ryan J. Reilly contributed to this story.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.