No, Mitt Romney is not claiming Irish heritage to pander for Irish-American votes here or elsewhere. He’s also not claiming publicly his investments in Ireland. No surprise there. After all, as Ann Romney bluntly told ABC’s Robin Roberts: “We’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and about how we live our life.” That would be fine – except that her husband happens to be running for president. What’s next from the Romneys? “Let them eat cake?”
There is surely nothing wrong with financial success, and by any balance sheet, Mitt Romney is a hugely successful businessman, both here and abroad. From the start of his campaign, he has trumpeted his business acumen at Bain Capital as the reason that voters should boot Barack Obama from the White House and replace him with a bonafide “job creator.” Fair enough proposition, so all we need to know is how and where Mitt created jobs. He invited us to walk through that proverbial door – until he didn’t. He has also barricaded himself behind a seemingly impregnable wall when it comes to his ballyhooed success’s income-tax returns. That’s where Mitt’s “Irish Connection” comes into play.
It began when President Obama’s website slammed Romney’s murky offshore investment portfolio as money hidden in “tax havens” and noted one of them as “Ireland.” The Obama website asked: “Has Mitt Romney avoided US taxes by investing millions in tax havens?”
The Irish Times noted that “a trust associated with Mr. Romney held an undisclosed amount of money in a Goldman Sachs fund and in other accounts in Ireland.” The paper added, “While Bermuda and the Cayman Islands are listed as having zero tax, Ireland is listed as having a tax rate of 12.5 per cent (the corporation tax rate).”
Romney supporters have correctly pointed out that there is nothing wrong and certainly nothing illegal about offshore/overseas investment. Nowhere in the US has investment in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland been more pronounced than in and around Boston, and it paid off on both sides of the Atlantic until the crash of 2008. Romney, however, feels that his income taxes, other than his 2010 filing and his “incomplete” 2011 tax statements, are none of the public’s business. The suspicion in many quarters (before I get jumped with the only-Democrats-are- suspicious charge, the last time I checked, Matthew Dowd, George Will, and Businessweek are hardly Democratic tools) is not that Romney has done anything even remotely illegal, but rather that for voters hard-pressed by the economy, any perceived sleight-of-hand, loophole-laden tax shelters will seal perceptions of him as a man utterly incapable of understanding, let alone solving, economic issues for anyone not in the same rarefied air of the so-called “one percent.” On ABC’s This Week, conservative George Will, certainly no fan of the current president, contended, “The cost of not releasing the returns [Romey’s] are clear. “Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”
Businessweek’s Joshua Green, after interviewing several Bain sources, bored in on the “zero-tax-paid-in-2009-by-Romney” theory, writing that it “gains further sustenance when you consider it’s the only year for which nobody knows anything about Romney’s taxes.”
On his swing through the London Olympics in late July, Romney’s schedule included a sit-down with Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny. The Irish press has speculated that Kenny and other Irish leaders are uneasy at prospects that the Obama administration is mulling minimum taxes on all overseas profits of American multinational companies. With American investment in Ireland a key component to recovery for the Republic, anything that might chip away at direct American investment there is a concern. Irish concerns, however, won’t help Romney much on two crucial matters for millions of American voters: Did any of his Irish investments bleed away jobs for Americans, and just how much did he avoid in American taxes through his investments in Ireland and elsewhere?
Romney can try to brazen it out right through the election, but if he does, the question of what, if anything, he’s hiding will bedevil him every step of the way, and no amount of bashing Obama through Super Pac lucre will stop the questions, and not just from Democrats. If Mitt Romney could hand the McCain campaign twenty-three years of tax filings, why can’t he release even twelve to the voters? After all, that’s the number his own father submitted during his presidential run in 1968. Why can’t he simply man up and let the public know what his holdings in Ireland and other nations are?
Romney’s campaign is predicated on his business acumen and the mere fact that he’s not Obama. Still, the president, whom Romney derides as un-American and incapable of understanding the economy, knows it is smart business to come clean when it comes to taxes. The American public knows how much the Obamas have made for the last twelve years. The Romneys? Well, the best they can do is less than two and whine that if they release more, the Obama campaign will give them a hard going-over. “Whine” is the word chosen by noted Republican strategist John Weaver in reference to Mitt’s carping about Democrats poring over Romney tax returns.
Apparently, Mitt doesn’t want the voters to know what his Irish and other overseas connections entail. He can assure Taoiseach Kenny that when it comes to the Romney’s Emerald Isle portfolio, “We’ve given all you people [presumably all Americans] need to know and understand about our financial situation and about how we live our life.”
Still, regarding the Romney’s Irish and other offshore connections, Romney might be better served to listen to John Weaver’s words to the Washington Post: “There is no whining in politics. Stop demanding an apology, release your tax returns.”
Peter Stevens is a regular contributor to our sister paper, the Boston Irish Reporter.