What About the Vice Presidential Tax Returns?

At this point, I’m actually a little impressed that Mitt Romney has managed to resist the growing calls to release his tax returns. Romney is under a tremendous amount of pressure from conservatives—including prominent supporters—to reveal his finances, and his continued refusal is a sign of impressive, if short-sighted, discipline.

Of course, the longer Romney goes without releasing his tax returns, the more opportunities there are for awkward questions. In particular, there’s the question of his vice presidential vetting process—did candidates submit returns, how many were there, and is there a double-standard? After all, if you deserve to know the most about your potential running mate, isn’t it also true that the public deserves to know the most about its potential president?

As it stands, neither Rob Portman nor Tim Pawlenty—the two most likely choices for the vice presidential nominee—have revealed anything about their taxes. Both candidates have been asked by reporters, and both have demurred. Portman reportedly “laughed” when asked how many tax returns he released to the Romney campaign, while Pawlenty was unclear as to the number of returns he released. “I don’t remember the specific number of years,” Pawlenty told ABC News. “I know I provided some tax returns going back a number of years, but I don’t know if it was three or five. I don’t think it was probably more than that.”

Indeed, despite Pawlenty’s eight years as governor of Minnesota, and Portman’s experience throughout government—from six terms as a member of the House to stints as U.S trade representative and OMB director—there is no sign that either man has ever released his tax returns to the public. Pawlenty was pressed on this after his first run for governor, but refused to acquiesce.

I expect that Romney will ignore these questions, and continue to keep his tax returns from public view. As an incredibly risk-averse person (read the story of how he became head of Bain Capital), this makes perfect sense. It’s not so much that there’s something damning in his returns, perhaps, as much as it is that Romney can neither predict nor anticipate the outcome of releasing his returns. Even if they’re damaging, he would rather go with the known knowns of continued secrecy, rather than the known unknowns of public scrutiny.

It should be said that if Romney is as risk-averse in office as he is as a candidate, then we should expect maximal accommodation to the demands of congressional Republicans. As someone with real weakness on his right-flank, Romney doesn’t have the strength to challenge conservatives, and it’s more than apparent from this episode that he will always take the path of least risk and resistance. At the risk of kicking a dead horse, if elected president, there’s no way that Romney would ever govern as a moderate.