Democrats are continuing their all-out assault on Mitt Romney’s finances by pushing legislation in the Senate to require candidates for federal office to disclose financial stakes in a foreign tax haven.
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) took to the floor to talk up the Financial Disclosure to Reduce Tax Haven Abuse Act, which was introduced in March. It would force candidates and their spouses to file a disclosure form listing the identity, value and location of finances held in jurisdiction deemed a tax haven by the U.S. treasury, such as the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. Current law does not require such disclosure.
The senators called it part of a long battle to crack down on the abuse of tax havens, but after their speeches, Durbin admitted to reporters that the timing of his renewed push isn’t a coincidence.
“My research suggests Mitt Romney is the first presidential candidate in American history with a Swiss bank account,” the No. 2 Democrat told reporters. “And obviously this has been a topic, as well as his use of these tax havens and shelters. He has also failed to disclose income tax returns to the same level of previous presidential candidates over the last 36 years. And it raises questions.”
The move is part of a coordinated effort between the Obama campaign and Democratic surrogates to make Romney’s private sector record and immense wealth a liability with voters ahead of Election Day.
“This is not a new issue,” said Levin, who has fought it for more than a decade. “When a crooked business or a shameless individual does not pay its fair share, the burden gets shifted to others, usually to ordinary taxpayers and working Americans. … Tax dodgers and tax avoiders have continued to exploit every offshore loophole and tax haven that they can find.”
Durbin and Levin said efforts to crack down on offshore tax havens once had bipartisan support, positing that the only plausible reason an American would have a Swiss bank account is to hide or conceal their wealth. Durbin said he intends to propose the legislation as an amendment to an unrelated bill, arguing that bringing it up separately would eat up a week’s worth of Senate time. He admitted has hasn’t spoken to Republicans about it yet.
“I think this disclosure is now appropriate, timely and necessary,” said Durbin.
A Republican leadership aide did not immediately return a request for comment.
House Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) announced Wednesday he intends to introduce partner legislation in the lower chamber, which would additionally require candidates to release 10 years of tax returns.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.