For weeks, Democratic and Republican leaders alike have been clamoring for Mitt Romney to release at least a decade of personal tax returns. Democrats want him to release them because they think the returns will show Romney has used every loophole imaginable to shelter his wealth. Republicans want him to release the returns because the longer Romney waits, the more it looks like he’s hiding something.
For a week or so, the issue went away, overshadowed by Romney's trip abroad and accompanying gaffes. He criticized the Brits for being ill-prepared for the Olympics, and put down Palestinian culture. A Romney aide even managed to get recorded telling a reporter to kiss his ass. The issue of Romney's taxes, it seemed, had be disappeared from the public discussion.
That was until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) gave an interview with Huffington Post published today that all but guarantees Romney will release said returns. In it, Reid alleged that an investor in Bain Capital, where Romney was CEO from 1991 to 2002, told him that Romney did not pay any taxes for ten years:
“Saying he had ‘no problem with somebody being really, really wealthy,’ Reid sat up in his chair a bit before stirring the pot further. A month or so ago, he said, a person who had invested with Bain Capital called his office.
“‘Harry, he didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years,’ Reid recounted the person as saying.
“‘He didn't pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain,’ said Reid. ‘But obviously he can’t release those tax returns. How would it look?
“‘You guys have said his wealth is $250 million,’ Reid went on. ‘Not a chance in the world. It’s a lot more than that. I mean, you do pretty well if you don't pay taxes for 10 years when you’re making millions and millions of dollars.’”
Harry Reid might be telling the truth about this unnamed Bain investor, or he might not. Either way, it’s a diabolically savvy political move that puts the onus on Romney to act. By revealing this alleged hearsay, Reid is positing the worst case scenario about Romney’s taxes during the ten-year span in question—namely that he didn’t pay any. While the veracity of this scuttlebutt seems unlikely, it will essentially force Romney to release the returns to show that he at least paid some taxes, even if the amount is so low he’ll be publicly ridiculed for it. Meanwhile, Reid has plausible deniability since he supposedly heard the rumor from a Bain investor, of which there have no doubt been hundreds or perhaps thousands in the company's history. If Romney’s returns show he paid taxes, Reid could simply say that it was just something he had heard. Indeed, he even covered himself by saying, “I’m not certain.”
Whether Romney paid no taxes for so long is unclear at the moment. But what is clear is that thanks to Harry Reid, we’ll all know quite soon.