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Lee A. Saunders Headshot

Romney: 'I Believe in America,' but Bank in Switzerland

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"I believe in America" has become one of Mitt Romney's favorite catch-phrases. "I believe in America," he says in speeches, interviews and debates. In a recent four page fundraising letter, Romney writes, "I don't apologize for America because I believe in America," and mentions at least six other times that, yes, he "believes in America."

When I hear that Romney line I'm reminded of the opening scene in The Godfather. The camera is focused on the face of the undertaker Bonasera, who has come to ask Don Corleone's help in revenging an attack upon his daughter. Bonasera begins his speech with these words: "I believe in America. America has made my fortune."

Romney's fortune was made buying companies, building up their debt, bankrupting them and walking away with millions of dollars in personal profit. He was a corporate raider, a Wall Street vulture. As the head of Bain Capital, he implemented the so-called "destructive power of capitalism." In other words, he spent his career destroying companies and communities -- not to mention the lives of workers -- in order to make massive amounts of money for himself and his cronies.

Mike Earnest certainly knows it. He worked for Ampad, a paper company in Marion, Ind. After Romney's firm acquired the company, Earnest was asked to build a 30 foot stage in the company's warehouse. Days later, Romney's colleagues from Bain came out and used the stage to announce that everyone was fired. "Mitt Romney made over a hundred million dollars by shutting down our plant, and devastated our lives," Earnest says. "Turns out that when we built that stage, it was like building my own coffin."

Romney fired people to build something different: a monumental personal fortune. His worth is estimated to be $250 million, and he's created a trust fund for his five sons that is said to be worth at least $100 million. A mystery company he controls in Bermuda is among several that Romney has never fully disclosed. The company recently posted $1.9 million in earnings, although previously Romney's campaign had said the value of the asset was less than $1,000. How many assets of less than $1,000 produce nearly $2 million in earnings? Something is very fishy. The Associated Press reports that Romney has failed to report at least 20 investment holdings on federal reports. At least seven were foreign investments. Why has Romney been hiding these holdings? What is he hiding now?

Earlier this year, Romney told an audience in Maine: "I have not saved one dollar by having an investment somewhere outside this country." Only the release of several years of tax returns would let us know if he is telling the truth, or if, as usual, he is distorting reality.

The American people deserve to see Mitt Romney's tax returns. Not because we're jealous of his wealth or because we have a problem with success. No, we need to see his tax returns because he needs to be accountable and transparent. The voters have a right to know how he's made hundreds of millions and what he has done with them. We know from the limited amount of information he released under pressure earlier this year that serious questions have been raised about Romney's remarkably high income and his ridiculously low tax rate.

We learned that Romney had investments in off-shore tax havens like the Cayman Islands, along with a Swiss bank account. Why would a man who says he believes in America need a Swiss bank account? How many millions did he stash there before closing it down two years ago? What were the tax implications? While educators, nurses, correction officers and home care workers paid taxes on every dime they earned, was Romney hiding money in tax havens to shelter his income from taxes? These are serious questions that require honest answers. Only his tax returns can provide them.

His tax rate averaging 14 percent is lower than the rate paid by the average American, thanks to tax laws that are written to help the wealthy while socking it to the middle class. Romney doesn't want to fix those laws, in fact he wants even more tax breaks for the wealthy, and he doesn't mind if those tax cuts rip open a bigger deficit. All he cares about is making sure that the folks at the top of the pyramid aren't required to pay their fair share.

And what about Romney's IRA? Like all Americans, Romney's contributions to his IRA were limited by law. In the 15 years he worked at Bain, he was able to contribute $2,000 a year into the IRA and up to $30,000 per year in a different kind of plan that the company may have used. How then did the value of his IRA grow to $102 million? That's right, he has an IRA valued at $102 million. Something more than compound interest must be at work here, because it is difficult to see how the account could have grown to $1 million, yet alone $102 million. How it grew to such a size is a Romney secret. He's not saying. I think we all deserve an answer. We need to see his tax returns.

When you open to the first page of Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather, the first words you read are by the French writer Balzac: "Behind every great fortune there is a crime." Maybe Mitt Romney really does have a reason to keep his tax returns secret. We'll never know until we see them.

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