Obama Adviser Plouffe Presses Romney on Release of Old Tax Files

David Plouffe, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney should release decades of back tax returns, framing the issue of as one of “transparency and trust” that will help define the choice for voters in November.

“If he’s got nothing to hide, then there’s nothing to lose,” Plouffe said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend.

Obama campaign officials have challenged Romney to release 23 years of tax returns that they say the former private equity executive shared for a background check when he was considered for the Republican vice presidential nomination in 2008.

The returns are “just sitting in a box or vault or something,” Plouffe said. “The American people want to have trust in their leaders,” he said.

He also said Romney’s campaign is being backed with independent television advertising funded by the oil and gas industry and Wall Street, suggesting they expect a Republican president would “take care of their bidding for them.”

Plouffe made his remarks the same day Obama and Vice President Joe Biden released their 2011 tax returns and as the administration is promoting a proposal to impose a minimum tax on those making $1 million a year or more. In keeping with the theme, the White House and Obama’s political aides have been emphasizing that some of the nation’s top earners pay a lower tax rate than many middle-income Americans.

Targeting Romney

Obama’s advisers have begun directly engaging Romney as the president’s opponent for the general election now that the former Massachusetts governor’s path to the Republican nomination was cleared with the departure of Rick Santorum from the race.

In the campaign, Obama is promoting his initiatives that would allow Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire and impose the minimum tax for top earners. It’s called the Buffett Rule, named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who says he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, largely because of the preferential treatment given to capital gains and dividends.

For 2010, Romney paid a 13.9 percent effective tax rate on more than $21 million in income, largely from capital gains and dividends, according to returns he released earlier this year.

2011 Returns

Romney released an estimated 2011 tax return earlier this year showing an effective tax rate of 15.4 percent on $20.9 million in adjusted gross income. His final 2011 return will be released when it is filed, spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an e- mail.

April 17 is the deadline for Americans to file federal income tax returns. The White House released tax returns yesterday showing Obama and his wife, Michelle, paid a 20.5 percent federal tax rate on $789,674 in adjusted gross income for 2011. Obama, who is paid a $400,000 annual salary as president, received most of the rest of his income from sales of his books.

The Obamas have released tax returns dating back to 2000.

As the general election gets closer, Plouffe said he expects wealthy Democratic contributors will step up with more money for independent political action committees supporting the Obama campaign to counter spending by Republican committees.

Super-PAC

Priorities USA Action, a so-called super-PAC supporting Obama, has lagged behind similar groups supporting Republican candidates. It reported raising $2 million in February and had $2.8 million in the bank. Restore Our Future, the committee backing Romney, took in $6.4 million in February and had $10.5 million to spend.

“Eventually I assume you’re going to see more progressives understand the threat that this poses,” Plouffe said.

The loosening of legal restraints on election spending is expanding the political power of a small circle of “a few dozen” wealthy individuals, he said.

Financial companies make up four of the top 11 employers of contributors to Restore Our Future, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Through the end of February, employees of Bain Capital LLC, a private equity firm that Romney co-founded, have donated $2 million, while employees of Tiger Management LLC gave $1,250,000, employees of Elliott Associates gave $1 million and employees of Paulson & Co. gave $1 million, according to the center.

The American Energy Alliance this month began a $3.6 million television advertising campaign in eight battleground states. The commercial claims that Obama’s energy policies have prompted a doubling in the price at the pump. It doesn’t mention Romney.

American Energy Alliance is a nonprofit group that doesn’t disclose its donors. It is the advocacy arm of Institute for Energy Research, which is largely funded by oil and other energy-related companies.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Dorning in Washington at mdorning@bloomberg.net; Julianna Goldman in Washington at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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