Mitt Romney's tax returns are a distraction. The Republican presidential candidate should release them for the sake of transparency.
But the clamor for them by Gov. Martin O'Malley in his role as head of the Democratic Governors Association says more about him and his fellow leftist ideological travelers than anything contained in the returns will say about Mr. Romney, who does not hide that he is rich.
For Mr. O'Malley, making money in the free-market system is abhorrent. In Virginia in July he said, in reference to supply-side economics, "There might not be anything illegal about any of it, but it's certainly not a good economic theory — unless you're a Romney."
He even went so far as to characterize Mr. Romney's failure to release his tax returns as "a bit of an implicit admission of ... guilt," insinuating illegal activity on the part of the Republican without evidence.
Under his theory, each person who makes more than $100,000 per year (the new definition of rich in Maryland after the 2012 legislative session) should be audited each year to ensure compliance with the tax code. Call it unequal protection under the law, or guilt by high salary.
But it is not so clear cut as that, because he only aims his barbs at those who believe in an economic system of equal opportunity (rather than equal outcome) and one that inherently allows disparities of wealth. Those like investor Warren Buffett, who say the wealthy should be taxed more, and those who become wealthy by government, like Mr. O'Malley, are exempted from his contempt — as are those who benefit from taxpayer largesse. They do the work of the people and are somehow immune from corruption through their philosophy in his mind.
The irony is that Mr. O'Malley only released his tax returns after his challenger in the 2010 gubernatorial race, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., agreed to make his public. In August 2010, Mr. Ehrlich released five years of returns. Governor O'Malley released three years but only allowed reporters to review them briefly in person. Mr. Ehrlich allowed the same access. No copies were made available for in-depth review, and no photographs were allowed; this from a man who pioneered CitiStat and pledged to make the state a leader in transparency.
Those records paint the portrait of a wealthy man who made more than 98 percent of Marylanders for the three years he released. Reports show that virtually all of the $300,000 he and his wife Catherine made per year in 2007, 2008 and 2009 came from taxpayers, and he will soon make even more when he starts collecting a $75,000 pension for serving as governor on top of the $60,000 annual pension he already receives for his terms as Baltimore City mayor and council member. I requested his most recent returns from the Democratic Governors Association, but spokeswoman Kate Hansen declined to provide them.
"As you know, Governor O'Malley isn't a candidate for office, and he hasn't made offshore investments or held Swiss bank accounts — unfortunately, the same can't be said for Governor Romney's investments betting against the American worker," she said. Why should we believe him? If held to his own standard, Marylanders should find him guilty until proven innocent.
And while Governor O'Malley paints Mr. Romney and other Republicans as out of touch with working Americans and says they do not like women or immigrants, the downtrodden are not chief in his mind. The O'Malleys gave about 2 percent of their income to charity during the three years he made his returns public, according to reports. The forms did not detail which nonprofits benefitted from their contributions.
To paraphrase Jesus, "Follow the money." Obviously, he likes to keep most of his, despite publicly calling for the "rich" to give back more. I don't remember learning in church that paying more taxes absolved one of tithing.
Personal hypocrisy aside, the bigger issue is that his philosophy is fundamentally flawed. Government can't redistribute wealth if there is none to be distributed. And notably, even the hallowed Warren Buffett is betting against the municipalities whose governments most closely hew to his and Mr. O'Malley's political philosophy by terminating $8.25 billion of credit default swaps insuring the bonds of those places. So, Governor O'Malley may deride the makers and praise the takers, but when the left's chief financial officer bets against big government, who are you going to believe?
Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a fellow at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Her column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.