President Obama’s reelection campaign continued to blast Mitt Romney on Sunday for offshore financial holdings and renewed its call for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to release additional tax returns.
The pressure followed a week of news reports about a Bermuda company Romney owned and transferred to a trust in the name of his wife, Ann, on the day before he became Massachusetts’ governor in 2003.
The existence of the company, Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors Ltd., and other foreign assets — including investments in the Cayman Islands and a Swiss bank account maintained until 2010 — was not known to the public until Romney released his 2010 tax return and an estimate for 2011 in January.
Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs suggested Sunday that Romney might have broken the law; at a minimum, Democrats say, Romney is guilty of secrecy and of betting against the country he aspires to govern.
“You either get a Swiss bank account to conceal what you are doing or you believe the Swiss franc is stronger than the American dollar,” Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“The one thing he could do . . . to clear up whether or not he’s done anything illegal, whether he’s shielding his income from taxes in Bermuda or Switzerland, is to do what every other presidential candidate has done and that is to release a series of years of their tax returns,” Gibbs added on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Gibbs’s claim that “every other presidential candidate” has released “a series of years of their tax returns” is not quite accurate. In 2008, GOP nominee John McCain released only two years of returns.
And the Obama campaign’s demand that Romney release 23 years of tax returns — the number he shared with McCain while being vetted as a potential running mate —
The Romney campaign on Sunday called attacks on Romney’s offshore assets “unseemly and disgusting.”
“Mitt Romney had a successful career in the private sector, pays every dime of taxes he owes, has given generously to charitable organizations, and served numerous causes greater than himself,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.
The significance of Romney’s foreign assets is unclear. Though it has used Romney’s offshore holdings to paint him as an out-of-touch rich man hoarding his wealth abroad, the Obama campaign and its surrogates have struggled to articulate why the investments are relevant to the election.
Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor of Maryland, made an attempt on ABC’s “This Week”:
“The relevance is this: that Governor Romney can’t claim that his state actually was great at creating jobs when he was governor, so he’s fallen back and said, ‘Look, vote for me. I was a businessman. I created jobs. You want to talk about going the way of Europe — what went the way of Europe were the Swiss bank accounts and the American dollars that Mitt Romney stuffed in that offshore Swiss bank account.”
In a video posted online Sunday, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt levied no direct charges against Romney but made his points with innuendo. “What taxes would Romney have paid if his money was invested here in America?” LaBolt asked.
And, he continued, if Romney took advantage of tax shelters but broke no laws, “is not technically breaking the law a high enough standard for someone who wants to be president of the United States?”
Musing about why Romney would have transferred Sankaty to his wife, LaBolt said “the only logical explanation is in order to avoid disclosure.”
In fact, that is not a logical explanation. By law, the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission demands disclosure not only of public officials’ own business holdings but also “the identity of any equity in a business with which the reporting person is associated which has been transferred to a member of the reporting person’s immediate family.”
Moving Sankaty to his wife’s trust would not have allowed Romney to omit the company from his annual statement of financial interests. Presumably, he left Sankaty out because it was worth less than $1,000. If the company was worth more, Romney might have broken the law by not disclosing it, but the Obama campaign has not made such a specific accusation.
Despite the vagueness of the Obama campaign’s attack, Romney’s team appears uncomfortable discussing the candidate’s foreign assets. Debating the issue with O’Malley on ABC, Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana and a possible vice presidential pick, repeatedly ducked questions from host Terry Moran.
“Look,” Jindal said, finally, “I think voters will consider all the distractions thrown out by the Obama campaign, but at the end of the day, this election is about two fundamental choices.”
Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.