Back in 1969, when I was Chief Justice of Michigan, there had been a scandal involving a judge who wasn’t paying his income taxes. In fact, he hadn’t even filed tax returns for a number of years.
Very embarrassing. As the state’s highest ranking judicial officer, I thought it my duty to set a good example and try to restore some of the court’s good name.
So I filed my tax returns in the County Clerk’s office for public inspection.
The net result was a brief story in the newspapers under a headline that said something like “Brennan Tax Returns Are Boring.”
No other judge followed my example, and that was the end of the noble experiment. I did, however, continue to file my returns publicly as long as I was on the bench.
I got to reflecting on those days in light of the current controversy about Mitt Romney’s tax returns. The Democrats and even some Republicans want Romney to publish all of his tax returns, not just the last couple of years.
I’m not so sure. For one thing, the Romney tax returns are not like mine. They certainly aren’t boring, at least not in the sense that mine are. Mitt Romney is a wealthy and successful businessman. His tax returns run into the hundreds of pages, and doubtlessly contain thousands of details about his business activities.
That, of course, is why his political opponents want them made public. They hope to find a treasure of juicy facts and figures that will bolster the narrative about Romney being a heartless business tycoon.
The Republicans have perhaps a different reason for joining the chorus.
They may feel that refusal to publish the returns could create a suspicion that the tax returns might show something illegal, shady or questionable.
I doubt that. The IRS is part of the executive branch of the federal government. That’s the branch which answers to the President of the United States.
Does anyone doubt that Mitt Romney’s tax returns have been meticulously audited by the IRS for any possible flaws, mistakes, or omissions?
Does anyone doubt that if there were any plausible legal criticism of Mitt Romney’s tax returns, it would already have been known by the White House and leaked to the press?
No sir, the whole thing is political. It’s all a matter of trying to paint a candidate for President as someone who isn’t forthcoming to the American people.
That goes both ways. Here is what I would advise Mitt Romney to do:
If and when he is nominated by the GOP in Tampa, his campaign should tender a box of documents for public release, including tax returns, birth certificate, baptismal records, school transcripts from elementary through University, all passports, copies of all applications for employment, scholarships, or grants, social security records, bar examination records, Bar admission, discipline and resignation records, driver’s license records, draft board and military records and medical records.
To be opened when, as and if his opponent tenders exactly the same records for public inspection.
I sent a similar note to a good liberal friend. He responded by calling me a ‘birther.’
‘Birther.’ That’s a pejorative term for people who question the President’s qualification as a natural born citizen of the United States. It’s supposed to suggest that a person is unreasonably obsessed, maybe a little goofy.
That’s what you do in politics these days. You don’t debate issues, philosophies and ideas. You call names.
Maybe we should just label those who want to see Mitt Romney’s tax returns “taxees.” With a sneer and a giggle.
Then we could put all the birthers and the taxees in a room, lock the door and leave them to decide what the American people need to know about Presidential candidates.