After months stonewalling on releasing more tax returns, Mitt Romney invoked a brand-new explanation for demurring in an interview with Parade magazine set to hit newsstands this weekend: religion. "Our church doesn’t publish how much people have given [to the LDS Church]. This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one’s financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church,” Romney told the magazine when asked about his returns, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
While it’s certainly understandable that Romney would prefer to keep his church giving private, this isn’t really a convincing argument for hiding his returns. For one, he’s not actually hiding anything as the cat’s already out of the bag. We already know how much Romney gave to the Mormon church in 2010 and 2011, the years for which he has released tax returns. Mormons are encouraged to tithe 10 percent of their income and, indeed, Romney gave about that -- $4.1 million of the $40 million he earned in those two years. His Tyler Charitable Foundation gave another $4.8 mil to the faith. So if we already know how much he gave in 2010 and 2011, why should any other year be kept secret?
Secondly, the whole reason presidential candidates release tax returns is because former Republican presidential candidate George Romney started the tradition in the late 1960s by releasing 12 years of returns. George Romney was also a Mormon and a leader in the church, but apparently had no problem with how much he had given to the church (he was also Mitt Romney’s father). Over the 12-year period covered by the returns, George and his wife, Lenore Romney, gave 19 percent of their income to the LDS church.
Moreover, most churches (or synagogues or mosques or temples) expect their congregants to donate, and since every presidential nominee since forever has been religious, at least publicly, Romney is asking to be excused from a standard that everyone else has been held to. There’s nothing in his answer that suggests Mormons should have special cause to be exempted, and it’s reasonable to assume that a protestant like Barack Obama or a Methodist like George W. Bush would also prefer to keep their religious giving private, if given their druthers. But they both released their tax returns. (For what it’s worth, Obama was pretty stingy in his religious donations, giving just 1.4 percent of his income.)
If Romney wants to keep the rest of his tax returns private -- as he certainly does, and has promised to do -- he’ll need to come up with a better reason than this pious baloney, to quote Newt Gingrich.