Editorial Board

Reid and Romney Both Are Hiding Something

Harry Reid knows something. The U.S. Senate majority leader repeatedly charged this week that Mitt Romney paid no taxes in recent years despite the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s eight-figure annual income.

“The word’s out that he hasn’t paid any taxes for 10 years,” Reid said.

How does Reid know this?

“I am not basing this on some figment of my imagination,” he explained to reporters. “I have had a number of people tell me that.”

Reid won’t disclose his sources, but the “number of people” who have both firsthand knowledge of taxes and an eagerness to share the details with the top Democrat on Capitol Hill must be a very small number indeed. “I don’t think the burden should be on me,” Reid said, shifting the spotlight to Romney. “The burden should be on him. He’s the one I’ve alleged has not paid any taxes.”

Leaving aside Reid’s charge for the moment, Romney should disclose his taxes -- at least for the half-dozen years during which he has been actively pursuing the presidency. His failure to do so is unsettling precisely because he has had so much time to prepare for the inevitable. At best, his intransigence raises questions about his political acumen. At worst, it makes people wonder if there is something he is hiding.

That, of course, is precisely the concern that Reid is seeking to exploit. Calling for Romney to release his taxes is good ethics and good politics. Citing secret allegations about secret tax data from secret sources is something different: Without proof, it’s demagogy.

There’s been a lot of that going around Washington lately. Representative Allen West has located dozens of “communists” in Congress while Representative Michele Bachmann and colleagues have sounded the alarm about the “deep penetration” of Muslim extremists in the Department of State. Then there was that matter of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

Reid lacks the clownishness of the Joe McCarthy Re-enactors Caucus in the House of Representatives. But he knows something of their motives. So while we’re skeptical of the majority leader’s claims of inside knowledge of Romney’s taxes, we’re confident that Reid does in fact know something. He knows better.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.