President Barack Obama is outsourcing his latest effort to focus the media’s attention on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s wealth and complex financial holdings.
His campaign’s spokesman and several senior Democrats appeared on Sunday cable TV talk shows to suggest and claim that Romney’s complex financial arrangements are unethical, and may even be illegal.
His surrogates didn’t offer any actual evidence of illegality or improper behavior, but may successfully use the media’s coverage of the issue to damage Romney’s appeal to middle-class voters.
The tactic can be successful because many reporters at establishment media outlets want to explore Romney’s finances, because Romney’s likeability score in polls is low, and also because many working-class swing voters are cynical about wealthy business executives.
The aggressive tactic also diverts media and voter attention from the stalled economy, high unemployment and record deficits.
However, the pitch threatens to renew media attention to Obama’s past, especially his own failure to release his educational records, his political deal-making in the notoriously corrupt Illinois government, and the impact of his progressive political advocacy on his constituents.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul pushed back at 12.49 a.m., with a statement slamming the Democrats’ suggestions and claims.
“The Obama campaign’s latest unfounded character assault on Mitt Romney is unseemly and disgusting,” said her statement.
“Mitt Romney had a successful career in the private sector, pays every dime of taxes he owes, has given generously to charitable organizations, and served numerous causes greater than himself [while] Barack Obama has become what he once ran against — a typical politician willing to use false and dishonest attacks to save his job after failing to do his job.”
Romney senior campaign adviser Kevin Madden used Fox News’ Sunday show to deny impropriety.
Romney “hasn’t paid a penny less in taxes,” he said. Romney’s tax “liability is exactly the same as if he held the fund investments directly in the U.S. … Some investments in some foreign countries can be tax havens. But Mitt Romney does not hold any such investments.”
That answer spurred more questions from Democrats.
“If he didn’t receive any tax advantage, what was the purpose of creating shell corporations and investing so much of his money in tax havens in the first place?” asked Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager. “If there’s nothing to hide, why not clear it all up and release multiple years of returns like every candidate has done for decades, including Mitt Romney’s own father?”
Cutter’s comments complemented the other Democrats’ claims.
“You either get a Swiss bank account to conceal what you are doing or you believe the Swiss franc is stronger than the American dollar,” Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin declared on CBS’ “Fate The Nation.”
“Barack Obama believes enough in our country to be willing to work for and invest in it,” Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley asked on “This Week,” ABC’s Sunday talk show. “Mitt Romney bets against America … when he put his money in Swiss bank accounts and tax havens and shelters, and also set up a secret company — the shell company — in Bermuda.”
On Fox News Sunday, Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz declared that Romney has “got a Swiss bank account [and] Americans need to ask themselves: why would a American businessman need a Swiss bank account and secretive investments like that?”
Obama campaign surrogate Robert Gibbs appeared on CNN’s “State of the Nation” show and declared that Romney “offshores most of his own personal investments, presumably to shield them from taxes.”
When asked if Romney did anything illegal, Gibbs replied that “the best way to figure out if he is complying with American tax law is to have him release more of the tax returns.”
These TV pitches were coordinated with the release of a new Obama campaign video that focused on Romney’s complex financial arrangements.
The video “raises important questions about Mitt Romney’s offshore accounts in foreign tax havens, including his mysterious corporation in Bermuda, his funds in the Cayman Islands, and the Swiss bank account he opened,” according to a campaign statement.
“Mitt Romney could be the first President in history to stash millions offshore,” said the statement, which provided no evidence of illegal or unethical behavior.
“Did he put his money there to avoid paying us taxes? We don’t know,” said campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt in the video.
“Is not technically breaking the law a high enough standard for someone who wants to be president of the United States?… Let’s make sure that question is being asked.”