Obama Campaign Keeping Spotlight on Romney’s Tax Returns

President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and its allies sought today to keep alive a debate over Mitt Romney’s tax returns, calling on him to release at least five years of filings and showing a new ad on the issue.

A response from Romney’s campaign indicated the presumed Republican presidential nominee won’t change his position of disclosing no more than two years of returns.

A letter to Romney’s campaign by Obama re-election manager Jim Messina said the president’s team would cease its criticism of the former Massachusetts governor on the tax question if the bid for five years of returns was met.

“This request for the release of five years, covering the complete returns for 2007-2012, is surely not unreasonable,” Messina wrote. “Other presidential candidates have released more, including the governor’s father who provided 12 years of returns.”

Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, wrote back that “it is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending.”

Presidential candidates have been inconsistent in the number of returns they have made public. Ronald Reagan made seven years available; George H.W. Bush released three years; and Romney’s father, George, made 12 years of returns public in his 1968 presidential bid.

13 Percent

Romney, confronted by persistent questions about his personal finances as the presidential race intensifies, said yesterday that he paid a tax rate of at least 13 percent over the last decade.

Saying the “fascination” with his tax returns is “small-minded” at a time of big national and global challenges, the Republican challenger denied as “totally false” charges that he had failed to pay taxes over the last decade.

“I did go back and look at my taxes, and over the past 10 years I never paid less than 13 percent,” Romney told reporters in a question-and-answer session in Greer, South Carolina. “Every year, I’ve paid at least 13 percent, and if you add, in addition, the amount that goes to charity, why, the number gets well above 20 percent.”

New Ad

Priorities USA Action, a super political action committee founded by former Obama aides, released a new ad today that features Romney’s comments from yesterday. The group said the 30-second spot will run online in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The president’s own team has also emphasized the tax issue in some of its ads, including one that spotlighted a Swiss bank account Romney had with Zurich-based UBS AG that was closed in 2010. Another ad tells viewers they pay more than Romney pays.

Romney has released his 2010 return, which shows that he paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent on more than $21 million in income, most of it from capital gains and dividends. He has pledged to release his 2011 return when it is completed, while rejecting calls from Democrats and some Republicans that he release additional years.

His campaign said the 13 percent figure Romney cited represented his share of federal income tax. That is a higher rate than the average household pays. In 2009, the most recent year with available data, the average federal income tax rate was 7.2 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Romney’s rate was similar to the 13.4 percent average tax rate for the top 20 percent of taxpayers, and lower than the 21 percent rate paid by the top 1 percent of taxpayers -- those making more than $1.2 million -- according to the CBO.

Financial disclosure statements Romney has released have estimated his personal wealth to be as much as $250 million.

To contact the reporters on this story: John McCormick in Boston at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net; Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Boston at jdavis159@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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