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Did Mitt Romney get away with keeping his tax returns secret?
The campaign is almost over and the public still knows next to nothing about the GOP candidate's immense fortune
Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign rally in Jacksonville, Fla.: After the long campaign, voters still haven't gotten a full look at Romney's tax returns.
Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign rally in Jacksonville, Fla.: After the long campaign, voters still haven't gotten a full look at Romney's tax returns.
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ver since the GOP primaries, Mitt Romney has been under heavy pressure from Republicans and Democrats alike to release more than two years of tax returns, in keeping with a precedent of financial transparency begun by Romney's father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney. It sometimes seemed that not a day would go by without Newt Gingrich blasting Romney's secretiveness or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid making some wildly unsubstantiated claim about Romney paying zero taxes. There were widely disseminated reports about his tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, and the pressure mounted to such an extent that many predicted Romney would be forced to yield. Instead, Romney hunkered down. Now, with just days to go before the election, it seems his strategy of stonewalling has worked, says Thomas B. Edsall at The New York Times:

It is Romney who appears to have won the argument. His tax returns are a dead issue, except on the left and liberal fringe...

A Romney victory will make it possible for future candidates to take the same path of secretiveness. Non-disclosure could become the norm.

Perhaps just as interesting, Romney has demonstrated that the press is relatively toothless — that a candidate who is willing to take the heat for a while can outlast the media.

Of course, some members of the press continue to root around in Romney's byzantine finances. A new story from Jesse Drucker at Bloomberg shows that Romney used the tax-exempt status of the Mormon Church to avoid paying taxes to Uncle Sam:

In 1997, Congress cracked down on a popular tax shelter that allowed rich people to take advantage of the exempt status of charities without actually giving away much money.

Individuals who had already set up these vehicles were allowed to keep them. That included Mitt Romney, then the chief executive officer of Bain Capital, who had just established such an arrangement in June 1996...

In this instance, Romney used the tax-exempt status of a charity — the Mormon Church, according to a 2007 filing — to defer taxes for more than 15 years. At the same time he is benefiting, the trust will probably leave the church with less than what current law requires.

But Romney hasn't gotten away scot-free. There's still an election to hold, says Alec MacGillis at The New Republic:

[Romney's] elusiveness came at a cost. Romney's secretiveness about his taxes, they say, was a major element of the unflattering frame the Obama campaign managed to construct around him for most of the campaign, of a self-interested plutocrat who was not to be trusted...

[Democratic strategist Tad Devine] noted that Obama's stubborn polling lead in Ohio is almost surely due in part to effective attacks over on the summer on Bain Capital and the few things that have emerged about Romney's taxes, including his accounts in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, which were so memorably targeted in this ad. "In terms of getting away with it," concludes Devine,"it's only something [you] can get away with if...you've won the election."

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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