With little more than 100 days remaining before the 2012 presidential election, the race is too close to call. President Barack Obama, despite his high personal approval ratings, may pay the price for not being able to overcome the disastrous Bush recession, a global economic meltdown and four years of Republican obstructionism.
But it appears many Americans are very reluctant to support presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The likely reason for their hesitancy is they are uncertain whether they can trust Romney. And Romney has given even supporters reason for pause.
Most recently Romney has been unwilling to release more than two years of his tax returns. "We just laid out exactly what is required by law, which is all of our financial statements, and then in addition two years of tax reports, just like (Senator) John McCain put out," Romney told NBC's Today Show. His justification for this position, "My guess is if you decide to do more and more and more, you just give the opposition the chance to distort and twist and be dishonest about more material."
So far, Romney has only released his 2010 return and just an estimate for his 2011 return. His campaign says the full 2011 returns will be released once they are complete, but the election is barely three months away. Further, Senator John McCain released his returns seven months before the 2008 election. And Romney's father, George Romney, released 12 years of returns when he ran for president in 1968. The elder Romney paid an effective tax rate of 37 percent in 1967, while his son's returns show he paid an effective rate of about 15 percent.
Of course, there are already many questions being asked by experts, reporters and the opposition about Romney's earlier returns. For instance, his Swiss bank account raises tax compliance questions. Why would a presidential candidate, wealthy or not, have so much money in offshore accounts? What was the effective tax rate for earlier years? Did he pay no taxes at any time? Romney's strategy is to endure harsh criticism for another 100 days, even from Republicans, for not releasing his returns rather than have to answer detailed questions about his returns and his investments.
Romney's claims that he saved the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002 as its chief executive. Romney promised "complete transparency," the Boston Globe reported. "Some who worked with Romney describe a close-to-the-vest chief executive unwilling to share so much as a budget with a state board responsible for spending oversight," said the newspaper. "Archivists now say most key records about the Games' internal workings were destroyed under the supervision of a staffer shortly after the flame was extinguished..."
Of course, Romney's success was in part due to more than $300 million in federal and $40 million in local government funding. No, he didn't build it himself. And the Olympics is a private organization not required to disclose financial information. But, since Romney is claiming that his Olympic experience is an example of how he will turn the U.S. economy around, don't voters deserve to know about how he did it? Why were the key records destroyed so quickly? Did any vendors, subcontractors or even family members get sweetheart deals?
The Boston Globe has also reported that when Romney completed his term as Governor of Massachusetts in 2006, members of his administration destroyed emails, purchased hard drives, and otherwise all digital records of his time as governor. In a November 2011 editorial board interview with the Nashua Telegraph in New Hampshire, Romney said, "Well, I think in government we should follow the law. And there has never been an administration that has provided to the opposition research team, or to the public, electronic communications."
During his term, Governor Romney enacted spending cuts and increases in fees that helped wipe out the state deficit. He also signed Romneycare, which provides universal health care in the state, and for individual mandates to purchase insurance. Of course, Romneycare was the blueprint for Obamacare, President Obama's healthcare law that Romney has vowed to repeal. Digital records of key meetings may have shed light on Romney's views at the time on mandates, tax increases, budget cuts, abortion and gun laws. But, once again, detailed records about how Romney conducted himself in a leadership role were destroyed.
Romney's tenure at Bain Capital has been cited by his campaign as an example of how the governor can turn the U.S. economy around. Bain's business was to make money for its investors. It did so by taking over troubled companies and turning them into successful businesses, or shutting them down and selling off their assets. Just how many jobs Bain added during Romney's tenure varies, but the campaign claims as many as 100,000.
Bain began offshoring jobs around 2000 as part of its strategy to drive labor costs down in some businesses. The Obama campaign has hammered Romney as the "outsourcer and chief." Romney supporters insist he had left Bain in February 1999 to run the Olympics and had no role in offshoring jobs. But the AP reported that Romney stayed in "regular contact" with Bain after he left, "personally signing or approving a series of corporate and legal documents through the spring of 2001." And other sources say Romney attended meetings at Bain Capital after February 1999. Romney takes credit for jobs created by Bain after February 1999, but he takes no responsibility for sending American jobs overseas at the same time.
Romney wants the 2012 election to be a referendum on President Obama's handling of the economy. He has offered few specifics about what he would do to jump start the U.S. economy, and where he would cut the deficit. It's a secret, just like his taxes, his offshore accounts, his Olympic work, his term as governor and his time at Bain Capital.
In his 2004 book, Romney wrote, "We instituted a rule at Bain Capital that every meeting had to begin with a joke. I love jokes and I love laughing." Well, come November, Mitt Romney may very well have plenty to laugh about!