Much has been said and a lot of arguments made for and against Mitt Romney to disclose his tax returns for more than two years. I have absolutely no reason to believe that Romney has committed tax fraud. In fact, I believe that he has almost certainly complied to the letter with our tax laws. Count me on the side of disclosure, though, because the issue isn’t about breaking the law. Anyone running for public office gives up an awful lot of privacy, and the higher up the office, the less privacy a candidate has. A presidential candidate pretty much has no personal privacy left in his life by the time his opponents and the media gets through raking over every last detail from birth to the present. How much detail is relevant is a separate debate.
Disclosing tax returns, in my opinion, is a very relevant issue for the voters. Tax returns can reveal where and how a person made his money, how many tax credits and deductions the candidate took, what esoteric tax laws allowed the candidate to avoid paying taxes, and other information. And this is where the returns become important. The voters should know what tax loopholes were available, in this instance, to a candidate that made millions of dollars but only paid fourteen percent in taxes in 2010. This is a matter of public policy that should be debated. I think most Republican and Democratic voters agree that we need tax reform in a major way. But most major legislative changes occur only when there is either a crisis or strong movement. Perhaps Romney was fortunate enough not to have paid any taxes for a period of years---legally. Shouldn’t the American people know that? Maybe many voters would be outraged, and maybe not. But if there is outrage it can be expressed to our elected representatives and serve as the impetus for tax reform.
Some may argue that Romney paid far more of his income to charity, a good thing, which allowed him to take a sizable tax deduction. What is troubling about that is that rather than pay taxes that fund a myriad of costs that benefit all Americans, to include the armed forces, he gets to choose where his money goes and puts nothing into the national pot. There is not a single tax paying American that supports all the government spending. Many wouldn’t have given a dime to pay for the Iraq war. Others wouldn’t choose to fund various welfare programs. But only those at the very top of the income ladder have options.
I want to stress that I support making money and achieving a high level of prosperity. I also want to be clear again that I honestly believe that Romney has complied with all tax laws. I just would like for all voters and tax payers to know from a presidential candidate’s tax returns what laws were applied to minimize or avoid paying taxes so that this can become a public policy issue to be debated and argued in the media and the deliberative bodies of the Congress. Recall that there was very little controversy over the draft in the 1950s and early 1960s. When the Vietnam war heated up that all changed. And that ultimately resulted in the public debate that led the Congress to eliminate the draft and turn to a volunteer military.