A growing roster of Republicans is calling on Mitt Romney to release additional tax returns on the premise that the presumptive GOP presidential nominee could score political points with transparency-hungry voters and weather a few stormy news cycles about the volume and location of his wealth.
But Romney appears certain that the tempest would not subside so quickly.
“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,” Romney told the National Review on Tuesday. “And I’m simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort, and lie about.”
Romney’s fear is not unfounded. His offshore assets — a company in Bermuda, investments in the Cayman Islands, a recently closed Swiss bank account — continue to feature prominently in Obama campaign attacks months after their existence was made public when Romney released his 2010 tax returns in January.
A Vanity Fair article about the Bermuda company, Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors Ltd., dominated political discourse this month.
As Romney adviser Vin Weber told the Washington Post on Tuesday, “the Democrats aren’t calling for all this information so that they can move on to other issues.”
Yet pressure on Romney continues to mount within his own party — and even within his own campaign, according to a report by the Post. Many in the GOP believe Romney is doing more damage to his image by stonewalling than he would do by opening the book on several more years of taxes.
The list of prominent Republicans advising Romney to give up earlier tax returns includes Representative Ron Paul and Governor Rick Perry, both of Texas; Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman; and Senators Charles Grassley of Iowa and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
“Politically, I think that would help him,” Paul told Politico on Tuesday. “In the scheme of things politically, you know, it looks like releasing tax returns is what the people want.”
Conservative journalists such as Post columnist George Will and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol are also urging further disclosure.
“He should release the tax returns tomorrow. It’s crazy,” Kristol said on “Fox News Sunday.” “You’ve got to release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two.”
So far, Romney has shown no sign of heeding their advice. He has pledged to release his 2011 tax returns when they are finished, after providing an estimate in January, but said he will end his disclosures then.
The Obama campaign has hounded Romney for more, arguing voters deserve a clearer picture of Romney’s finances so they can see the ties that might influence his decisions as president.
In prodding Romney, Obama’s reelection team has brandished several sticks. The sharpest has been its unfavorable comparison between Romney and his own father, George , who made public 12 years of tax returns as a presidential candidate in 1968.
“One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show,” George Romney said that year.
The Obama campaign also has noted that most major party nominees release more than two years of returns. Four years ago, Obama made public seven years of returns and now has a dozen in the public domain as he seeks reelection.
In 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore each released nine years; Bill Clinton released 11 in 1992, George H.W. Bush 14 in 1988, according to old media accounts.
When defending his plan to release only two years of tax returns, Mitt Romney has pointed to 2008 Republican nominee John McCain and 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry, saying both men did the same.
But McCain is an outlier in the last few decades, and Kerry released five years of returns, in addition to others he had made public during earlier campaigns for Senate.
Another Obama attack is that McCain viewed 23 years of Romney tax returns when considering him as a vice presidential candidate in 2008 but selected Sarah Palin as his running mate instead.
“So whatever’s in there is far worse” than what is in Romney’s 2010 return, former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said Sunday in an interview on ABC.
McCain has rebutted the notion that he passed over Romney because of something he discovered on the tax returns.
A TV ad the Obama campaign launched Tuesday in Pennsylvania suggests Romney might not have paid “any taxes at all” in some years, an allegation the Romney campaign denies.
With no abatement in the forecast, many Republicans now contend the only way for Romney to halt speculation that he has something to hide is to relent and release more tax returns.
Even some who agree with Romney’s position that the demand is a distraction have begun to say the issue may be growing too big to dismiss.
“If it becomes an issue that he can’t move beyond in his own campaign, then obviously it would be important to determine to what extent he can release more,” Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine told The Hill on Tuesday.Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.