Almost entire Congress refuses to release tax returns

Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
Members of Congress are demanding that U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney give full disclosure of all of his tax returns, but most are refusing to publicize their own.

The presumptive presidential nominee has disclosed his 2010 tax return and 2011 tax return estimate, but refuses to publicize any more. His refusal is generating critical responses from Congressional members, who claim his secrecy makes him unfit to run for president.

However most members of Congress do not think that this same level of transparency should apply to them. While senators and representatives are required to publicize their sources of income, they are not required to disclose their tax returns, which contain additional financial data like spousal income.

McClatchy has asked all 535 members of Congress for full disclosure of their tax returns, but only 17 have complied.

Among those who refused are Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Harry Reid – both of which have heavily criticized Romney for his limited transparency.

“He could not even become a Cabinet member for that lack of disclosure, and now with the lack of disclosure, he wants to be president of the United States,”Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said.

Reid said Romney’s refusal to publicize more of his financial information makes him unfit to be a “dogcatcher” – a metaphor for the lowest possible elected office.

But Pelosi’s aides refused to disclose the representative’s own tax returns, saying she has already disclosed all that Congress requires.

“The leader has filed a complete financial disclosure report as required by law that includes financial holdings, transactions and other personal information,”a Pelosi spokesman told McClatchy.“There has been no question about where Leader Pelosi and Democrats stand on tax policy.”

But similarly, there is no lawful requirement for presidential candidates to publicly release their tax returns, and it remains a matter of choice for the contenders.

Romney claims that full disclosure of his finances would distract from the issues he finds important.

“In the political environment that exists today, the opposition research of the Obama campaign is looking for anything they can use to distract from the failure of the president to reignite our economy,”Romney told the National Review Online.“I’m simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort and lie about.”

While some members of Congress find Romney's full disclosure necessary to better understand his financial background, they don't consider themselves responsible for the same.

Tax return documents indicate spousal incomes, and several members of Congress have married rich. Among the top of the list are Rep. Michael McCaul, Sen. John Kerry and Pelosi’s husband, who heads a venture capital and real estate firm. The representative’s spousal income thus remains publicly unknown.

Most lawmakers who did share their tax returns with McClatchy received significant deductions for interest on personal and investment real estate – information that taxpayers may be interested in, since the tax code is expected to change in the next few years.

Reporters are also interested in Congressional members’ tax returns to see how changes in tax laws would affect their income tax rates and capital gains taxes, dividends and deductions.

But most lawmakers refused full disclosure of their own tax returns, while continuing to demand that Romney release his.

Although most members of Congress refused to publicize their own tax returns, the DISCLOSE Act is bringing the transparency debate into the spotlight. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked the Democratic legislation, which would require certain tax-exempt groups to disclose the names of some of their highest donors.

While Congress is battling over greater transparency in presidential campaigns, hypocrisy has found its way into the government, with most members opposed to having the same rules apply to them.