PolitiFact, the independent fact checking entity, has concluded that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's accusation that Mitt Romney didn't pay taxes for ten years is so unfounded that it deserves the group's "pants on fire" label.
The site references interviews several news outlets conducted with tax experts, as well as one it did with an economist at New York University's Stern School of Business. Each expert claims that it was extremely unlikely that Romney didn't pay taxes for that long a period.
Reid has produced no evidence to back up his claim other than attribution to a shadowy anonymous source. Romney has denied the claim, and tax experts back him up, saying that the nature of Romney's investments in Bain make it highly unlikely he would have been able to avoid paying taxes altogether -- especially for 10 years.
Reid has made an extreme claim with nothing solid to back it up. Pants on Fire!
The ruling drew instantaneous criticism, including from sources who have called Reid's claim irresponsible. Reid, after all, never said Romney didn't pay taxes. He said a Bain investor told him Romney didn't pay taxes. PolitiFact doesn't offer any evidence to refute that claim. The bigger question, though, is how PolitiFact would know the truth without seeing Romney's tax returns itself.
It is the site's policy to put the burden of proof on the person making the claim or accusation, which explains why it felt comfortable declaring Reid's claim a lie. But if that is the case, Romney's claim that he paid "a lot of taxes" each year could conceivably fall under the same category, as noted by Michael Linden, Director for Tax & Budget Policy at the Center for American Progress.
PolitiFact editor Bill Adair told The Huffington Post that he couldn't make such a ruling without checking the veracity of Romney's claim first.
"But it's worth noting that the tax experts told us and Salon that it's 'highly unlikely,' 'extremely unlikely' and 'preposterous' to claim that Romney has paid no taxes," he emailed. "As for what is 'a lot of taxes,' Romney paid $3 million in 2010 and had an estimate of $3.2 million in 2011. That sounds like a lot to me. But of course, he has not released returns for other years."