Romney pressed to release tax returns. Watchdogs ask what about Congress?
Democrats and some Republicans are hounding Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. But ask Congress members to release theirs and silence is the most frequent response. Double standard?
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"In an Internet age, those documents will be everywhere instantaneously," says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University. "A sealed envelope in the Senate is different than having tax forms circulating throughout the world, uncontrolled and unedited."Skip to next paragraph
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Unlike tax returns, financial disclosure forms for member of Congress are imprecise and requires members only to provide information within great ranges of income or assets, such as (no joke) $1 million to $5 million or $25 million to $50 million.
All Republicans and nearly two-thirds of Democrats in National Journal's most recent Congressional Insiders poll said that lawmakers should not have to disclose their tax returns.
When McClatchy News recently surveyed members of Congress, only 17 of 535 lawmakers agreed to release their most recent tax return. Nineteen declined. Most did not respond.
Asked at last week why members of Congress don’t hold themselves to the standard as presidential candidates, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said: “Some people think the same standard should be held for the ownership of the news media in the country, who are writing these stories about all of this. What do you think of that?"
Republican House Speaker John Boehner, asked the same question, declined to answer.
"There is a lack of transparency in Congress overall," says Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "It's very hard to make a determination of how much stock a member really owns."
"Tax returns tend to be a lot clearer," she adds. "Overall, we want to know the assets that any public official holds, so we can determine if they take actions that have more of a private benefit than a public benefit."
Levin, who says he has released seven years of tax returns, says he felt an obligation. "I felt a need to put my returns out because of the role I may play in tax reform," he told C-Span's Newsmakers.
As for requiring colleagues to do the same, he wants first to talk to both Republicans and Democrats. "This is not a partisan issue," he says. "I'd like to put in legislation that came from a bipartisan consensus and discussion."