Two years ago, two millionaire politicians running for statewide office in Illinois released their tax returns. Democrat Alexi Giannoulias was running for Senate. Republican Bill Brady was running for governor. As it turned out, neither had paid taxes in 2009, due to huge investment losses during the stock market crash and the business downturn that followed.
Republican Mark Kirk, a class warrior from the North Shore, ripped Giannoulias as a tax dodger.
“Giannoulias wants to raise our taxes, but he doesn’t pay any taxes himself,” Kirk’s campaign said.
Gov. Pat Quinn released an ad snidely pointing, “In the last two years, millionaire Bill Brady somehow didn’t pay any federal income taxes. We pay Bill Brady over $76,000 a year as a state senator, and he didn’t pay any federal income taxes? Who is this guy?”
Giannoulias and Brady both lost. So what do you think President Obama’s campaign is hoping to find in Mitt Romney’s tax returns? Romney, who hasn’t held a job since ending his term as Massachusetts governor, still earns millions a year in investment income, and possesses a fortune worth a quarter of a billion dollars. The Democrats would love to discover that he didn’t owe any taxes in 2009, either. But they don’t know. Romney has only released his taxes for 2010 and 2011. As his wife Ann told ABC News, “we’ve given all you people need to know about our financial situation.”
Now Obama is turning up the heat on his opponent, with a new ad featuring clips of Romney evading the tax question. ABC News tried again last weekend, with Romney himself, asking, “Was there ever any year when you paid lower than 13.9 percent?”
“I haven’t calculated that,” Romney said, chuckling nervously. “I’m happy to go back and look.”
When ABC tried to follow up, it got this statement from the Romney campaign: “Mitt Romney has paid his taxes in full compliance with U.S. law.”
The ad ends with the legend, “When will Romney come clean? We’re still waiting.”
Mark Kirk was an early supporter of Mitt Romney. What will the senator say if it turns out that, like fellow millionaire Giannoulias, Romney paid no taxes in 2009? Here’s a Ward Room prediction: “It’s different. Romney isn’t trying to raise our taxes.”
Smart politicians always leave themselves wiggle room. Even years in advance.