The Obama campaign and its Democratic allies renewed their accusations that Mitt Romney hid portions of his vast wealth in complicated overseas tax shelters, with a senior campaign aide working to sharpen a line of attack that polls suggest is finding traction with undecided voters.
Robert Gibbs, a top Obama campaign adviser, said on CNN’s State of the Union that Romney, during his time at Bain Capital, effectively shielded much of his wealth from American tax collectors by parking it in Bermuda.
"This is a guy whose slogan is 'believe in America' when it should be 'business in Bermuda,'" Gibbs said.
The new charges cite investigative pieces in Vanity Fair and the Associated Press detailing Romney's ownership of a firm called Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors Ltd. The GOP candidate did not disclosed his ownership of the firm until he released his 2010 tax returns, and it's still unclear precisely how much of his wealth may have been held in, or funneled through, the company.
The Romney campaign has stressed that their candidate has followed all relevant U.S. laws and paid all required taxes, and there is no evidence Romney did anything illegal.
“The Obama campaign's latest unfounded character assault on Mitt Romney is unseemly and disgusting," spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. "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. Barack Obama has become what he once ran against – a typical politician willing to use false and dishonest attacks to save his job after failing to do his job."
Still, the White House hopes that the perception that Romney hid some of his wealth from tax collectors—as well as the sheer size of his riches—will turn off middle class voters.
The Obama campaign's belief that it has found a winning issue was clear Sunday as it released an online video and top surrogates pressed the attack.
On Fox News Sunday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, asked "Why does an American businessman need a Swiss bank account and secretive investments?” A short time later, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley echoed the criticism.
"I've never known of a Swiss bank account to build an American bridge, a Swiss bank account to create American jobs, or Swiss bank accounts to rebuild the levees to protect the people of New Orleans," O'Malley said on ABC's This Week.
Meanwhile, on CBS' Face the Nation, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., echoed: "When it comes down to his Swiss bank account, there is just no way to explain it. You either get a Swiss bank account to conceal what you're doing or you believe the Swiss franc is stronger than the American dollar."
The challenge facing the Romney campaign as it tries to deflect the tax haven attacks was on clear display during the same program as host Terry Moran pressed Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a top Romney surrogate, on the issue.
"Is it fair for voters to consider, Governor, what Mitt Romney does with his money outside the United States?" Moran asked.
Jindal avoided the question each of the five times Moran asked some variation of it, instead focusing on Obama's health care and economic policies. When Jindal finally turned to Moran's question, he avoided the substance.
"Look, the bottom line is, I'm thrilled that Mitt Romney has been successful in the private sector," Jindal said. "I want somebody who's got that private-sector experience."
Kevin Madden, a Romney spokesman, gave a more detailed defense in a statement read on Fox News Sunday.
“He hasn’t paid a penny less in taxes by virtue of where these funds are domiciled. His liability is exactly the same as if he held the fund investments directly in the U.S.,” Madden said. “As a U.S. citizen, he is accountable for U.S. taxes. Some investments in some foreign countries can be tax havens. But Mitt Romney does not hold any such investments.”
Finding a stronger defense is of growing importance to the Romney campaign as polls begin to show the broader anti-Bain attacks are taking a toll.
Last week, a Purple Strategies polling report cited by Talking Points Memo found that "the Obama campaign position on private investment firms outperforms that of the Romney campaign: 47% believe that private investment firms hurt workers and cut jobs, while 38% believe that they foster economic growth and create jobs."
Similarly, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that Obama had an eight point lead, 50 percent to 42 percent, in battleground states where anti-Bain ads have aired.
If those numbers hold up, the Obama campaign will keep trying to hammer Romney on Bain. Romney will need to find better armor.