Monday, July 9, 2012

Hide-Bound

Paul Krugman wonders why Mitt Romney won’t open up his finances.

Has there ever before been a major presidential candidate who had a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account, plus tens of millions invested in the Cayman Islands, famed as a tax haven?

And then there’s his Individual Retirement Account. I.R.A.’s are supposed to be a tax-advantaged vehicle for middle-class savers, with annual contributions limited to a few thousand dollars a year. Yet somehow Mr. Romney ended up with an account worth between $20 million and $101 million.

There are legitimate ways that could have happened, just as there are potentially legitimate reasons for parking large sums of money in overseas tax havens. But we don’t know which if any of those legitimate reasons apply in Mr. Romney’s case — because he has refused to release any details about his finances. This refusal to come clean suggests that he and his advisers believe that voters would be less likely to support him if they knew the truth about his investments.

And that is precisely why voters have a right to know that truth. Elections are, after all, in part about the perceived character of the candidates — and what a man does with his money is surely a major clue to his character.

It is our human nature that makes us suspicious of people who keep secrets or refuse to come clean about something. It may be unfair — Mr. Romney may have perfectly good reasons to keep his financial information to himself and they all may be perfectly legal or even admirable — but human nature leans towards the suspicious because it’s been proven to be right in so many cases.

If Mr. Romney is going to ask us to trust him with, as Thomas Jefferson put it, “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” by becoming the President of the United States, he had better have a damn good reason why he shouldn’t tell us everything there is to know about him.