Mitt Romney is adamantly persisting in his refusal to release his tax returns beyond his single 2010 filing and partial figures for 2011. That refusal is beginning to cost him politically and to cause dissension among his fellow Republicans.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee told an interviewer that he was simply not enthusiastic about giving the Democrats "hundreds or thousands more pages to pick through, distort and lie about."
First, if the returns are public the Democrats can't lie about them. Second, the Republicans have plenty of attack artists in the fold to combat any distortions. And, third, it violates an admirable tradition, although one grudgingly honored, of transparency in presidential politics that goes back at least as far as his father, George Romney, who in 1967 released 12 years' worth of his returns.
The absence of evidence to the contrary has left the Democrats free to indulge in lurid speculation about offshore tax dodges in such financial havens as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda and the $3 million Swiss bank account that appeared in Mr. Romney's 2010 return and then quickly disappeared.
His reticence has not made it easy on his advisers. Pressed to explain why Mr. Romney, who said he had stepped down from all his top offices in Bain Capital in February 1999, was still listed in company filings as chairman and CEO through 2002, senior adviser Ed Gillespie explained that Mr. Romney had "retired retroactively."
The concept of retroactive retirement was quickly and widely mocked. Those were the years Mr. Romney was saving the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah. Why not just say so?
Mr. Romney says the Democrats only want to use his tax returns to distract attention from President Barack Obama's handling of the economy, but his secrecy about his finances has itself become an issue and a distraction.
Prominent Republicans — including former Mississippi governor and GOP chairman Haley Barbour, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and the candidate's former rival for the nomination, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas — have called on Mr. Romney to release his returns. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another former rival, urged Mr. Romney to be as transparent as possible.
The conservative National Review editorialized that Mr. Romney's only decision was "whether he releases his returns now, or later — after playing more defense on the issue and sustaining more hits."
With the London Olympics, the August doldrums and the electorate's notorious disinterest in presidential politics pre-Labor Day, "now" is the best time he's likely to get.