4:55 pm Jan. 17, 2012
Count Eric Schneiderman among the people who would like to see Mitt Romney's tax returns.
Schneiderman, a former state senator who has generally been a less conspicuously partisan Democrat since becoming attorney general last year, was the featured guest on a conference call hosted by the Democratic National Committee this afternoon, prodding Romney to reveal his finances.
The call coincides with Romney's visit to Manhattan today to raise money for his campaign, and comes one day after Romney stumbled through a debate question about whether he would make the returns public, suggesting he might release them sometime in April.
Schneiderman was ostensibly using the occasion to make a broader point about transparency.
"We want to use this opportunity to talk about the importance of transparency in financial dealings," said Schneiderman. "Here in New York, and in America, we ran into a lot of trouble over the last decade because of a lack of transparency, because of a lack of openness about conflicts of interest."
It was something of a catch-all call, with the D.N.C.'s national press secretary, Melanie Roussell, also noting that Romney has yet to reveal the names of his bundlers, after voluntarily disclosing them during his presidential run in 2008.
Schneiderman also took a shot at Romney for saying this morning that his speaking fees—which totaled nearly $400,000 last year—was "not very much" money.
"I'll bet you 10,000 bucks the American people think it's a lot of money," he told a reporter from Talking Points Memo, when asked about Romney's comments.
Schneiderman was joined on the call by Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, who joined Schneiderman in suggesting that Romney might be harboring financial conflicts that should be disclosed before the election, though they declined to join some of Romney's Republican opponents in taking direct shots at the private-equity industry, where Romneymade the bulk of his money.
Rybak said the returns are "important because he made money in a very legitimate field, but one that involves very complex financial entanglements. The American people need to know what those are."
The majority of a candidates' financial holdings are detailed on the rather exhaustive personal financial disclosure forms, but it's clear that Democrats see Romney's returns as an opportunity, among other things, to highlight the relatively low tax rates he (and other very rich people) pay on capital gains.
This morning, Romney told reporters that he "probably" pays around 15 percent—the capital gains rate—rather than the higher rate paid on standard income.
Schneiderman cast that question as a central issue in the campaign.
"There is an ongoing debate that is very much at the heart of this campaign about fairness, about whether there's one set of rules for everybody and everyone has to abide by those rules and pay taxes the same way," Schneiderman said. "Mitt Romney keeps saying, 'I'm following the current law.'
"It's important to point out that Mitt Romney is one of the most adamant opponents of changing these problems in the current law that resulted in an unfair tax code. His tax plan would increase benefits for millionaires and billionaires and I think it's very important to understand his refusal to disclose the loopholes he's using and the tax strategy he's employed.
"Let's keep that in the context of the debate where he's resisting changes that would help ordinary working Americans to pay less, and keep more. That's really what this election is about and that's really what this controversy is about."
Schneiderman, for his part, lagged a few months behind his own rivals in releasing his returns during the primary campaign for attorney general in 2010. But eventually he did.