07/17/2012 01:17 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2012

Mitt Romney's Teresa Heinz Kerry Tax Defense Misses The Mark

In an effort to deflect attention from his refusal to release multiple years' worth of tax returns, Mitt Romney argued Monday that other candidates before him -- and their wealthy wives -- have been just as secretive.

“John Kerry ran for president; you know, his wife, who has hundreds of millions of dollars -- she never released her tax returns,” Romney told Fox News. “Somehow, this wasn’t an issue.”

The logic is a bit strained. Not only because Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, had made it a practice to release his tax returns to local press before every race. But also because contrary to Romney's assertion, Teresa Heinz Kerry's refusal to release her personal tax details indeed became a fairly large issue in the 2004 campaign (she would only end up releasing summary information). And it was the conservative press that helped make it such.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, for example, ran a July 1, 2004 column entitled "Kerry and Disclosure," which argued that "it's past time for his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, to release her full filings with the IRS."

So far the Kerrys have balked at full disclosure on the grounds that Mrs. Heinz Kerry's sons' assets are mixed in and so would have to be revealed. But that is true in many political households. We hardly think that would be taken as a valid excuse if Laura Bush shared a billion-dollar family trust with her daughters.

Mrs. Heinz Kerry has already reported her 2003 income as $5.1 million and pledged to release the first few pages of her tax return, but only in October when there may not be time in the campaign for journalists to investigate what it contains. She should release the complete records for earlier years now, and the whole 2003 return in early October. Choosing to lead a public life means accepting the need for financial transparency.

On Aug. 5, 2004, the Washington Times published its own editorial on the matter, declaring that "the time has long passed for Teresa Heinz Kerry to end the free ride she has been enjoying ever since she used her immense inherited wealth for the second time in less than eight years to resuscitate her husband's faltering political career."

The wife of the Democratic nominee, the conservative-leaning paper added, "needs to reveal the details of her finances, which Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has deftly exploited to his maximum political benefit - first during his tightly contested 1996 Senate race and then during this year's Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses."


If she truly admires the "power of example," then let her follow the example of John Zaccaro, the husband of 1984 Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro who revealed his tax returns. Unlike Mrs. Heinz Kerry, he never bankrolled his spouse's political career.

On June 28, 2004, the New York Post, playing off of a deep Los Angeles Times report on Heinz-Kerry's wealth, wrote in an editorial that "All other candidates for national office and their spouses over the past three decades have disclosed tax returns and answered questions about holdings."

None of these publications have written recently that Romney should ignore calls to disclose additional years of tax returns. But others close to the former governor's campaign now find themselves on the opposite side of the transparency issue.

As Think Progress noted on Tuesday, Ed Gillespie, then chair of the Republican National Committee and now a top Romney adviser, "personally insisted that Kerry’s wife Teresa Heinz-Kerry, who files taxes separately from her husband, publicize her tax information" throughout the course of the campaign.