Democrats and Republicans alike escalated the call on Sunday for Mitt Romney to release more tax returns, rapidly turning what has been partisan rhetoric and isolated opinions into a chorus that Romney may find hard to ignore.
While Romney's time at Bain Capital remained the issue of the day, Democrats sought to tie Romney's tax returns to the Bain issue on Sunday, arguing that if he wasn't really working for Bain from 1999 to 2001, his returns will show it. When Romney left Bain has become a critical issue in the campaign because he has claimed that he was not involved with the company after 1999, when some of its holdings went bankrupt or had to lay off workers.
Rumblings about Romney's taxes started in the primaries, and increased in recent days, when former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said on CNN that, if he were Romney, he’d release more tax returns. That same sentiment was voiced by Republicans at the National Governors’ Association meeting this weekend, when Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley called for Romney to release more returns.
“I think he ought to release everything," Bentley said. "I believe in total transparency. You know if you have things to hide, then you may be doing things wrong.”
Bentley later walked back his remarks, but failed to stem the growing tide of Republicans requesting more returns, which flowed over to Sunday’s talk shows. There, prominent Republican journalists joined Democrats in asking for more information from Romney.
Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard, said Romney should “take a hit for a day or two” and release up to 10 years of returns, to end the speculation once and for all.
“Here’s what he should do. He should release the tax returns tomorrow,” Kristol said on Fox News Sunday. “In this craze, you've got to release 6, 8, 10 years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two.”
Conservative columnist George Will broached a topic that seems to be causing some Republican hand-wringing: Romney might be hiding something.
“Mitt Romney has said he has released all that’s necessary for people to understand ‘something’ about my finances," he said on ABC's This Week.
"Now, ‘something’ is a pregnant word. The costs of not releasing the returns are clear, therefore he must have calculated there are higher costs to releasing them."
Romney has thus far released only his 2010 return, and he is expected to release his return for 2011 soon. He said on Friday he won’t provide more than two years of returns, which he says is fully compliant with standards set by previous candidates. Opponents point out that Obama has released 12 years of tax returns and Romney’s father, George Romney, released the same amount during his presidential run decades ago.
The refusal provided ample fodder for Democrats looking to make Romney’s wealth an issue. Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod tied the returns to Romney’s leadership capacity, arguing on CNN’s State of the Union that they may bring into question his values when it comes to tax reform.
“I’m not suggesting that based on what we know, that he’s done anything illegal,” Axelrod said. “But what I am suggesting is that he’s taken advantage of every single conceivable tax shelter loophole that we can see. And now is he the guy that’s gonna clean up our tax code and make it advantageous to average taxpayers and the country? Or is he gonna look at it through the lens of his own experience?”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., packaged the returns and the issue of Bain Capital together in an attempt to back Romney into a corner. Though Romney says he left Bain entirely in 1999 to run the Olympics, recently unearthed SEC and Massachusetts state filings have raised questions about Romney’s involvement in the company during that time. Durbin said more economic disclosures could clarify the situation.
"Mitt Romney can clear the air this afternoon on this whole issue by making a more complete disclosure of economic information," Durbin said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
It's a sentiment that many in opposition want to foster. As Axelrod put it, "I can only conclude they think, with all these Republicans asking him to release these returns, that whatever is in those returns would be more damaging to his campaign than simply not releasing them."