WASHINGTON -- While Mitt Romney's refusal so far to release his tax returns has sparked anger from the usual opposition, the decision has also raised the ire of an unexpected group: military veterans. VoteVets.org, a veterans' advocacy group, urged Romney on Wednesday to make his tax records public so that voters can see whether Romney is paying his fair share to national defense.
"It's a battle of the 1 percents," Jon Soltz told The Huffington Post. Soltz, chairman of VoteVets.org, recently returned from a deployment to Iraq. He contrasted the much-referenced "1 percent" of top earners with the "1 percent" of Americans who have recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying the latter deserve full disclosure from their potential leaders.
"We need to know if, as a multimillionaire, he is paying his fair share to provide for our troops in the field and their care when they come home," said Soltz in a VoteVets.org statement released on Wednesday. "It would be extremely disconcerting to have someone running to be Commander in Chief who is paying a lower tax rate than the majority of our troops and military retirees."
Romney said on Tuesday that he pays a tax rate of about 15 percent. That number, noted VoteVets.org, is low compared not only to past presidents but also to many military enlistees. "That [15 percent rate] would put his tax rate on par with many enlisted personnel with six years or less of service, meaning he pays a lower rate than most career military members, enlisted and officers," the group said.
Soltz also argued that the evasiveness of Romney's answers on the topic should be a concern. "Military pay scales are published, so why should we just take his word that this is the rate he pays?" Soltz asked.
While the Republican Party traditionally holds the edge among military members, a poll released by VoteVets.org on Tuesday suggests that alienating veterans could harm the GOP among a wide swath of voters in 2012.
Conducted by Lake Research Partners in 11 battleground states, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the survey showed that 58 percent of voters in those states were more likely to back a congressional candidate who had the support of veterans' groups. That edge held across members of both parties and independent voters, 56 percent of whom said they would prefer a veteran-backed candidate.
"On issue after issue, key voters in these states responded that they were more concerned about issues from jobs to taxes to Social Security when presented with the issue from a veterans' perspective, rather than the usual take from politicians," said VoteVets.org.
Along with the poll, the group announced an online petition urging Romney to make his tax records public. By Thursday morning, it had gathered nearly 6,200 signatures.