Democrats have been making hay out of Mitt Romney’s finances for weeks, claiming that voters can’t fairly judge reported assets in notorious tax havens unless he releases his past tax returns. A handful of Republicans appear to be growing concerned that Romney is giving them room to operate.
On Thursday, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who heads all House GOP campaign efforts, told reporters that questions about Romney’s holdings were on target, according to CNN.
“His personal finances, the way he does things, his record, are fair game,” Sessions said. While he declined to name a specific amount of information or number of years’ worth of tax returns Romney should release, he called the issue a “legitimate question.” Romney has only released his 2010 tax return and had said he will release his 2011 return before the election.
Obama has personally called on Romney to release past tax returns, saying a candidate should be an “open book” to voters. The issue has gained traction in recent weeks following a series of reports on Romney’s holdings in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and his past use of a Swiss bank account. Obama campaign officials frequently note that Romney’s father, George Romney, set the current standard for disclosure in his own 1968 presidential bid when he released a dozen years’ worth of returns.
Romney has been slow to react, but finally went up with an ad decrying Democratic attacks as false on Thursday. He told FOX News’s Neil Cavuto on Wednesday that he preferred to stay on offense.
“Well, I of course respond to the attacks which come,” Romney said. “But you know, they say in politics, if you’re responding, you’re losing. I think the better course for our campaign is to respond to the attacks as being completely off-base.”
But those “off-base” attacks are not sitting well with some Republicans. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) flatly told CNN Thursday that Romney needed to make at least six years’ worth of returns public — and soon.
“I think he should release his financial records and I think if he does it in July it would be a lot better than in October,” Jones said. “Whenever you are asking for the vote of the American people that you need to fully disclose what your holdings are, if you have any.”
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who considered running against Romney in the Republican primaries and advises the conservative American Crossroads on its election strategy, said this week that he saw value in disclosure as well.
Barbour told CNN Tuesday that he would release the returns if he was in Romney’s shoes.
“I would. But should it be an issue in the campaign? I don’t think it amounts to diddly.”
Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele also called on Romney to release additional returns on MSNBC this week, reasoning that it would put Democratic attacks to rest. The Obama campaign highlighted Steele’s quote in a web video on Romney’s Cayman Islands and Bermuda assets.
“If there’s nothing there, there’s no ‘there’ there, don’t create a there,’” Steele said.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.