Raise your hand if you remember when presidential campaigns focused on actual issues. Ok, those of you who have your hands raised put them down, because in all honesty it has been a long, long time since elections were anything more than one side slinging mud at the opposition. Despite the fact that the country has become jaded by a political process that pays far too much attention to how someone looks eating a corn dog, there are political moves that are a bit too … political to be believed.
Mitt Romney has come under fire the last few weeks for being unclear about when exactly he no longer served as the CEO of Bain Capital, and for not releasing more of his tax returns to the general public. Those complaining about Romney’s lack of transparency have been (inaccurately) compared to birthers and told they need to pay attention to more important topics, but the fact does remain that there are legitimate questions being asked about Romney’s financial history. Unfortunately for those who want real answers to real questions, congressional Democrats have managed to take what is a real issue and turn it into a political circus.
This week, Democrats in the House and the Senate have been making noise about making sure that future presidential candidates have to disclose quite a bit more than Romney is willing to divulge. Two Democratic Senators, Dick Durbin (IL) and Carl Levin (MI) shone a spotlight on a bill they hope will cut down on U.S. businesspeople using offshore tax havens. The bill was introduced in March (right about the time it became obvious that Romney would indeed be the Republican nominee) and would force political candidates and their spouses to disclose if they held any offshore accounts. The Financial Disclosure to Reduce Tax Haven Abuse Act would also force the candidates to say how much the accounts are worth and exactly where they are held.
In the House, Democrat Sander Levin (MI) has announced his intention of bringing a bill that would make it mandatory for presidential candidates to disclose the past 10 years of their tax returns. The bill would also include a need to disclose overseas bank accounts in known tax havens. While Durbin and Carl Levin were not quite so obvious with their legislation, Sander Levin has admitted that Romney’s obstinacy was the reason he formulated the bill:
“The stunning lack of transparency from someone in pursuit of the highest office in the country highlights the need to change the law to require fuller disclosure. For decades, presidential candidates have voluntarily provided a thorough accounting of their tax returns and finances, as they should. But we clearly cannot continue to rely solely on the willingness of a candidate to disclose fully what the public has a right to know about the candidate’s financial record.”
This is certainly a problem of Romney’s own making. Very few people can honestly come up with a reason as to why the Republican candidate has so steadfastly refused to release his financial records. The problem comes when someone like Levin actually introduces legislation, in the middle of a political campaign that is clearly political. The so-called “birther bills” that have popped up from time to time since President Obama has been elected have elicited nothing but scorn from rational, thinking people. By introducing legislation like Durbin and Levin have, they risk being lumped into that group. There is a difference in the two sides, but the timing stinks of gamesmanship and presents the danger that Romney’s camp can point to these kinds of acts as proof that the Democrats are not seriously interested in anything other than scoring points. Romney has already claimed the reason he doesn’t want to release any more tax returns is because Democrats will spin them into something sinister.
Romney’s financial issues deserve a good combing over. Instead the Democrats might have given him the political out he needed. This election should not be about who turns the neatest phrase or scores the last gotcha sound bite, it should be about the real issues of the day, and whether or not Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are qualified to be the President of the United States.