Mitt Romney's refusal to release his personal tax returns from past years has led people to wonder what he may be hiding. That is an important question. But another question is equally pressing: What good reason is there for Mr. Romney to refuse?
In 2007 and 2008, Mitt Romney ran for president. Had he secured the nomination of his party instead of John McCain, he presumably would have released his tax returns for those two years, at the very least. What good reason can he have for refusing to release those years now? If he was prepared to release his 2007 and 2008 returns as a candidate in the last election, what has changed in this race?
Or consider the years 2002 through 2007, when Mr. Romney ran for and then served as governor of Massachusetts. What reason can a presidential candidate have for refusing to release tax returns for the only years during which he was actually an elected official?
One might even ask about 1994, when Mr. Romney ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate against the late Ted Kennedy. There is no general call for the former governor to release returns going back that far. But what would the objection be, when the man was putting himself forward to be the people's representative in Congress at the time?
Mitt Romney has been either a candidate for office or a public official for much of the last 18 years. For the last ten years, acquiring and exercising the power of public office has been his full-time quest. In refusing to release the tax returns that could answer many of the outstanding questions about his relationship with Bain Capital and his personal tax behavior, Mr. Romney attempts to shake the etch-a-sketch and erase that history. To use the revealing phrase of his surrogate Ed Gillespie, Mr. Romney is trying to "retroactively retire" from the job of being a candidate for office and a public official.
But the history is clear: For more than ten years, Mitt Romney has been putting himself forward as a public figure worthy of occupying high office, not merely a private citizen. He is now a major-party nominee for president, and he must meet a higher standard of accountability. That includes, at the very least, making disclosure of his financial and business dealings during the very years when he has been asking voters to entrust him with the exercise of public power.
There is simply no good reason for Mr. Romney to refuse.