Members of Congress Demand Mittens Romney Release his Tax Returns But Won’t Release Theirs

According to Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s refusal to release more than two years of his personal tax returns makes him unfit to hold the highest office in the land.

Sen. Reid took it a step farther saying that Romney’s refusal makes him unfit to be a dogcatcher.

They do not, however, believe as public servants that that same standard of transparency applies to them. The two Democratic leaders of the Senate and the House are among hundreds of senators and representatives from both parties who refuse to release their tax records. In all a total of 17 out of the 535 members of Congress released their most recent tax forms or some similar documentation of their tax liabilities in response to requests from mcclatchydc.com over the last three months. 19 replied that they wouldn’t provide the information, while the remainder ignored the query outright.

Congress stands to gain or lose by the very tax policies it enacts, and tax records, more than any broad financial disclosure rules now in place , offer voters a chance to see whether the leaders of the government stand to benefit from their own actions.

“Senior public officials, especially members of Congress and presidential candidates, should be required to disclose their tax returns so that the public can monitor potential conflicts of interest,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee and co-author of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, who critics say lacks any real teeth, was also among those who elected to not release their returns.

Challenged at a recent news conference to release hers, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee said she wouldn’t because she wasn’t running for president.

“I file full financial disclosure required under the law,” she said.

What’s required by law was written by Congress itself, and is a broad financial-disclosure statement that has no direct information on tax liabilities and does not require the reporting of the amount of spousal income, other than the source, over 1,000. There’s little way of knowing whether that spousal income is $1,001 or $1 million.

Several members of Congress have wealthy spouses. Topping that list are Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, whose wife is an heiress to the Clear Channel Communications fortune, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., whose wife is the heiress to the Heinz ketchup fortune. Pelosi’s husband heads Financial Leasing Services Inc., a San Francisco-based venture capital and real estate firm.

Missouri Democrat McCaskill was one of the few senators who provided her tax return. Her 1040 form lists her as married filing separately, showing an adjusted gross income of $193,384. Her husband, Joe Shepard, is a wealthy businessman who had investments in a reinsurance company in Bermuda, the same country in which Romney’s investments have been criticized by Democrats. Shepard no longer holds those investments after Republicans made allegations in 2009 of tax dodging.

Advocacy groups think that financial-disclosure reporting should be expanded to capture spousal income more fully, and argue that tax data would be a useful tool.

“As public officials, potential conflicts of interest caused by their wealth and assets are a public concern,” said Holman, the Public Citizen lobbyist.

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