Mitt Romney tax return poses a challenge: how to talk about his wealth
With the release of the Mitt Romney tax return, which showed nothing illegal, the worst may be over for the candidate, but GOP analysts say he needs to develop a better message about his money.
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But in a tough economic environment, Romney has struggled to convince voters he understands their pain and fears. South Carolina’s unemployment rate stood at 9.5 percent in December. Florida’s is even higher, at 9.9 percent. Romney’s off-the-cuff statement about the money he earned from speaking fees – “not very much” – was also telling. Between February 2010 and February 2011, he made more than $374,000 from speeches, many times a typical family’s income.Skip to next paragraph
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Scrutiny of Romney’s massive net worth – between $190 million and $250 million – comes at a time of intense public attention to the growing gap between rich and poor, the 1 percent versus the 99 percent, in the parlance of the Occupy movement.
A Pew survey last month found that the public believes the wealthy are not paying their fair share in taxes.
“The resonance of the 15 percent level of taxation has to do with the sense of fairness,” says Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. “People are very concerned that the government writ large is unfair.”
The risk for Romney is that he becomes the poster child of a system perceived as unfair, even though he is paying what he legally owes. The timing of his tax return release plays right into President Obama’s hands. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, the president will focus on the inequality of the tax system. He is expected, once again, to call for the reform of a tax code that allows some of the wealthiest Americans to pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.
In the audience will be Debbie Bonasek, billionaire Warren Buffett’s secretary for almost two decades, who is taxed at a higher rate than her boss. Mr. Buffett supports the principle – dubbed “the Buffett rule” – of changing the tax code to address that aspect.
Even though the timing of Romney’s tax return release is not ideal, analysts say he and his campaign could not wait any longer.
“They raised suspicions by delaying the release,” says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. “What they want is for this to be a nonissue that no one cares about.”
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