General Question

Patton's avatar

Could the Overseas Voluntary Disclosure Program be why Romney won't release his tax returns?

Asked by Patton (1983 points ) August 17th, 2012

There are a lot of theories about why presidential candidate Mitt Romney might not be releasing his tax returns, and we cannot know for sure what his reason is while they remain out of sight. We might not know for sure even if he releases them, though we might be able to make better informed guesses. I have a theory that brings together a lot of the evidence, though, and I am curious what others think of it.

The Overseas Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) is an occasional IRS program that allows taxpayers who have been hiding money in offshore accounts to avoid penalties by voluntarily disclosing that money on a current tax return. Taxpayers who take advantage of OVDP can claim any hidden money from the previous eight years without being subject to prosecution.

The IRS has offered this dispensation intermittently over the past few years. The first occurrence of OVDP was in 2009. If Romney took advantage of this program, his tax returns would indicate that he had admitted to committing a federal crime while avoiding punishment for it. This would tend to undermine his claim that he has followed all tax laws scrupulously, though he might say that the existence of OVDP retroactively makes this claim true despite how it might look from the outside.

Romney released his 2010 tax return and will supposedly release his 2011 tax return (rather than just the estimate he has released so far). But these would not show any evidence of the Romney’s availing themselves of OVDP. Neither would any tax returns from before 2009, but it would be very suspicious for him to release returns going back to 2000 while skipping that one year.

It would also make sense of Harry Reid’s claim that a source informed him that Romney has not paid taxes in ten years. If the source meant that Romney had been dodging taxes on a significant portion of his income and then took advantage of OVDP to catch up on eight years worth, then Reid might have misunderstood that to mean Romney had literally not paid anything for ten years (which seems impossible to do without getting caught). Reid could also be exaggerating or just flat out lying, but the numbers fit when you allow for a little bit of rounding up.

This is just one theory, and it I know it could be completely mistaken. It seems plausible, though, and that plausibility seems to make the tax returns a legitimate issue in a campaign that promises to focus a lot on economic issues like taxation and distributive justice.

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26 Answers

bkcunningham's avatar

Romney has released the tax returns he is legally bound to release but everyone wants to see more. It does make you curious. I’ll admit that. I’d love to see him make an offer to Obama. If Obama releases his college transcripts, Romney will release another year of his tax returns.

filmfann's avatar

@bkcunningham Isn’t that apples and oranges? One has nothing to do with the other.
Obama has release several years of tax returns. Why shouldn’t Romney?

and as far as college transcripts goes, how about Romney fessing up to hazing and harassing gay students in High School?

zenvelo's avatar

Yes, he could be holding them back for that reason, or because of a number of other reasons. There was quite a bit of speculation why on another thread today.

The thing is the speculation will continue until and if he discloses them. And that may cost him any chance of the election. Today there was even speculation that his petulance on this could cost them the House too.

JLeslie's avatar

Yes.

And, also that he gave a ton of charity money to the Mormon church. I don’t know if he did, I just think that is another reason possibly Romney thinks it better not to release his tax returns. But, at the same time I don’t think anyone would be surprised if Romney gave a lot of money to the Mormon church, so maybe that is not a big deal.

I recently heard Obama and the dems are asking for 5 years of Romney’s tax returns and if Romney complies Obama promises to not ask for anything further back than that. From what I understand the answer is still no from Romney.

ETpro's avatar

It’s as good a theory as any other. What is patently obvious is that he has made the calculation that the considerable political damage he’s taking by keeping his tax returns hidden is less than the damage releasing them would cause.

Harry Reid’s charge may well be close to right. The millionaire-only loopholes are such that a person with great wealth can set up off-shore businesses in tax havens (something Romney has done) then off-shore all income generating activity from his interests here to those shell corporations. They then bill the us enterprise for services, leaving the US enterprise showing no income and considerable loss, which can be carried forward to future tax years to defray any taxable income the tax avoider accidentally racks up. All legal, but highly unseemly when a guy makes millions a year, and ordinary working stiffs pay far higher tax rates with no such loopholes available to them.

Whatever it is, it’s got to be pretty bad, because the speculation in the absence of real information is terrible and gaining more traction every day.

SuperMouse's avatar

@bkcunningham President Obama has released his tax returns, no one is asking Mr. Romney to do anything most candidates don’t do. What is the precedent for asking Obama to release his college transcripts? Also, will Romney be asked to release his college transcripts as well? Your proposal makes no sense to me.

Romney is hiding something plain and simple. He is hiding the fact that he has consistently avoided paying taxes in the country he claims to love so much and wants to run. Is it not a coincidence that he is releasing the returns he has filed since he decided to run for president?

Interesting theory @Patton and interesting program as well.

JLeslie's avatar

@SuperMouse Do you think the Republicans will care if Romney barely paid any taxes? Most of us already know the wealthy pay very little taxes.

SuperMouse's avatar

@JLeslie no, I do not think republicans will care whether Romney paid taxes, dude could have served time for tax evasion and devoted republicans would vote for him. Heck, many uber-conservative voters would probably think of not paying taxes as heroic. The people who make up the undecided middle might very well care, Romney knows this and it is why he isn’t releasing his tax returns.

bkcunningham's avatar

@SuperMouse, Romney has released his tax returns. I just think it would be interesting to know what Obama is hiding in his college transcripts and IMHO, I think it would be a good challenge for Romney to throw out there. He’ll release more tax returns than the law requires if Obama will release any of his college transcripts. Sort of like playing poker.

zenvelo's avatar

@bkcunningham Romney has released one year’s return. There is no legal requirement, it is voluntary, but most people view it as a demonstration of understanding the tax structure in the US. Even GW Bush released a number of years returns.

bkcunningham's avatar

I thought he had released two years worth of returns, @zenvelo, and that was the requirement set forth by some financial disclosure laws for candidates.

bkcunningham's avatar

Ethics in Government Act. That is what I was thinking, @zenvelo. I have to refresh my shaky memory on the subject.

JLeslie's avatar

Romney would have to release tax returns for two years before his first attempt at the presidency I think for people to be somewhat satisfied. Once he started running for president and new there might be a demand for tax returns he could have been “careful” so to speak that they looked ok. Don’t get me wrong, I am not accusing him of anything, I would put my money on he has always followed the law, or intended to if there is some sort of accounting blip of some sort.

@SuperMouse So, if there is something in his taxes, if he did smething illegal, then does he automatically get disqualified somehow? I just wonder how that works.

zenvelo's avatar

@bkcunningham He has disclosed 2010. He said 2011 has not been completed yet, and he filed for an extension.

@JLeslie He doesn’t get “disqualified”; but he is subject to possible prosecution.

SuperMouse's avatar

@bkcunningham come on now, he has released one complete tax return. His own father started the practice of disclosing tax returns over an extended period of time. Saying Romney has released his tax returns is sort of a straw man argument. There is very little precedent for a presidential candidate sharing their college transcripts. FYI, Obama couldn’t have done too horribly as an undergraduate or he would not have been able to get into Harvard Law School and it is documented that he graduated from there magna cum laude. You are a Dittohead aren’t you @bkcunningham?

@JLeslie, I would hope that he couldn’t be elected if he is guilty of tax fraud. I am not saying Mitt Romney did anything illegal on his taxes. Unethical maybe, illegal, probably not.

wundayatta's avatar

Presidential candidates have no requirement to release tax returns. Tax returns are private information. However, since the 1970s most candidates have chosen to release this information. If you go to the Tax History Project, you will find all the tax returns that have been released, including the ones that Romney has released so far. Romney has released two years of his personal return; one year of his wife’s returns; and one year each of two trusts they control, one for the family and one called the Tyler Charitable Trust.

If Romney wants Obama to release his transcripts, then I think he should do it first. I do think it would be nice to know everything possible about a candidate, but I think we should know these things equally about each candidate. I think it would be nice to be able to view all home videos that exist. Also any recordings. Also all financial records that exist.

Not that anyone would do such things. Most people probably couldn’t.

But if we are going to entrust a person to lead this country, it seems to me that every bit of personal information is relevant. Not that I’d want to wade through it, personally. But it would be nice to know it is there if I cared to.

But mostly, it doesn’t matter. By the time you are the nominee of the party, none of it is relevant. I would never vote Republican, so the Democrat could be a jellyfish, and I’d vote for him. A jellyfish would run government better than a Republican could. Republicans are anti-government, so they want to destroy government, not run it. What amazes me is how many others in this country are also anti-government. They want to live in chaos, I guess.

laureth's avatar

There’s also the hiding voter fraud hypothesis.

JLeslie's avatar

@SuperMouse Unethical when it comes to taxes? Not sure I can accuse anyone of that.

SuperMouse's avatar

@JLeslie are you saying that Romney putting his money in foreign countries to avoid paying taxes in the United States is not unethical?

JLeslie's avatar

@SuperMouse I’m saying when it comes to taxes if it isn’t illegal, I am loathe to say it is unethical. Do we have laws limiting how much someone can put off shore?

SuperMouse's avatar

@JLeslie it is possible to violate the spirit of a law without violating the letter of the law. I suppose I figure current tax law is all about protecting the fortunes of the One Percent and that to me is unethical.

JLeslie's avatar

@SuperMouse Well, if I think of myself, and how I think most people function, I use the law to my advantage generally, but am willing to vote to change a law or prevent a law that will work against me so to speak. For instance, a non tax example: previously I would have voted to do away with affirmative action and quotas (now I am not sure how I would vote) even though if I had children they would benefit from it, and supposedly my husband can benefit also, but I don’t think his minority status has ever helped him in any way. He has never tried to use it to help him. Forget about that being a woman it can help me possibly.

Some tax examples: I don’t mind paying more taxes to reduce the deficit and for social programs; I want to. But, I am not going to send in a bigger check than what is required from me by law with whatever the current law is. If there is a law, loophole, write off I can use, I will. Even if I think the write off is horrible and advantages the rich. Not that I am rich, but we do pretty well. I have taken advantage of capital gains taxation in the past, which I think is way too generous towards the wealthy. I get tax deductions on my federal taxes some years because I pay so much sales tax buying big ticket items. That doesn’t seem “right” to me.

bellanora's avatar

I’m not a fan of Romney, he probably is hiding something that his camp believes would make him look less than stellar in the eyes of voters, but I doubt he is doing anything illegal. Just my gut. My husband is a tax attorney who helps high net worth clients protect their wealth – “creative tax planning”. I know to many it is a gross and disgusting practice, but if it was against the law, it wouldn’t be done. Before I met my husband, I admit I didn’t understand this practice and I found it startling when he described the work he does (imagine me, a lowly tax payer, who made a salary that was just above the poverty level!) – and of course I ended up marrying the guy who at first appalled me by his line of business helping the Romney’s of the world. Anyway, maybe Romney is hiding something, but I’m sure it’s only because his advisors know that most voters would be appalled just as I was all those years ago.

susanc's avatar

I’m really interested in what @bellanora has written here, because I imagine many people are in her same state of mind. If you don’t have the kind of money that would lead you to a tax attorney who will find legal loopholes for you, you might not be aware that there are any. These loopholes were created to protect the earnings of the relatively rich, so they’re the ones who are aware of them. It would be great if we could learn, as a nation, about how the rich manage to preserve wealth. And we could try to get some of those techniques for ourselves. Fair disclosure: I’m not one of the 1 per cent, but I’m probably one of the 10 per cent, and believe me, I have a tax attorney. I want credit for all the things I do with my money that are thought by the IRS to be equivalent to pooling some of it for the greater good via taxation. For example, if I give $$ to charities, they consider that equivalent to contributing, via taxation, to the social network that attempts to keep our less-advantaged from harm. I don’t think that’s wrong. What do you think?

JLeslie's avatar

@susanc That’s the whole point. The average person has no idea the benefits the welathy really have regarding taxes, and the average person cannot utilitze those write-offs and loopholes, because they don’t have the discretionary income to invest like a weathy person. The wealthy, and not even so wealthy, but well enough off, get a chunk of money taxed at lower rates or not taxed, and I think people who make less than $100k and their family also generally makes less than $100k really know very little about all the different opportunities within the tax code. It isn’t available to them for the most part because they are just about making ends meet, and what savings they do have they likely are not investing in real estate or in any big way in general. Forget putting money off shore.

I say all the time the media should have accountants talking about taxes on TV, not journalists, economists, and politicians.

Honestly, most Republicans I talk to about it, the ones who don’t make a ton of money, really just don’t get it. Probably a bunch of democrats don’t either, but it is the Republicans who are voting in a way that their ignorance works against them.

So many Republicans I know insisted Obama raised taxes on them, and then when I showed them the tax tables, their taxes were less with Obama in office. I am pretty sure they did not believe the black and white IRS tax chart. IRS, not some opinion article, literally the table used to do your taxes. They believe what they want to believe.

Most people in America think a person’s entire income is taxed in their bracket, rather than only the amount above that bracket line taxed at the higher amount. They think if they make $10 too much all their income will now be taxed higher. People are really clueless about tax code. I admit to not knowing a lot myself, but I ask, I don’t just go on some politician or someone who is hating on a President, whichever party.

ETpro's avatar

@susanc If you aren’t in the top 1/100th of 1%, the real loopholes aren’t available to you. Billionaires paid for the lobbyist to put the best of the loopholes in place. In some cases, they make it possible for a person to quite legally get money back from the IRS on earnings in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars per year. I’m pretty sure that if the 99% had any clue what is going on, they would revolt. It’s legal, but it is Robin Hood in reverse and it stinks.

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