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Should candidates be required to release financial information?

Staff Report • Jan 23, 2012 at 6:42 AM

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said last week he might consider releasing his tax returns, but not before April. Such a timetable does not sit well with his rivals for the White House, who fear Romney could have Republican presidential nomination sewed up by then.

Romney — the current front-runner in the GOP race — has refused to give an exact date for releasing his tax returns. His fiercest rival — former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — has questioned whether Romney is hiding something by not releasing information about his taxes and personal finances. In an editorial that appeared in The New York Times on Jan. 17, the paper called Romney’s “insistence on secrecy impossible to defend now that he appears to be closing in on the nomination and questions have intensified about his personal finances.”

Reuters news service also reported last week that Romney “may have good reason to be reluctant to release his returns. For a person of Romney’s diverse wealth, tax returns could show, for example, any strategies he uses to reduce his tax bills, such as any offshore partnerships that could serve as tax shelters.”

Romney is not the only candidate for public office in recent years who has been reluctant to release information about his or her personal finances.

During his successful run for governor of Tennessee in 2009, Bill Haslam released a limited profile of the sources of his personal income. That data listed millions of dollars in income and taxes, but did not include his earnings from Pilot Flying J — his family’s national chain of truck stops and convenience stores. A recent analysis of that data by The Commercial Appeal discovered Haslam used a variety of tax breaks to reduce the taxes he paid on $28.5 million of the non-Pilot portion of his annual income.

The Commercial Appeal found that while most taxpayers rely on wages progressively taxed up to 35 percent, the tax on much of Haslam’s publicly disclosed income — most of it capital gains involving stocks, real estate and private equity deals — is capped at 15 percent.

The newspaper also reported Haslam used deductions to write off nearly a third of that non-Pilot income — protecting $9.2 million from taxes.

Tell us what you think: Should candidates for public office be required to release detailed information about their personal finances?

Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or mailbag@johnsoncitypress.com. Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification. We will print your responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.

You also can go to www.johnsoncitypress.com to cast a vote in the online poll. Results of the poll, along with comments from readers, will appear on the Opinion page Feb. 1.

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