That's the year everyone is focusing on because that's the only year in which the Republican candidate hasn't released anything to anyone (he did disclose his 2010 and 2011 returns and submitted 20 years worth of returns to the McCain people as part of the vetting process in 2008). That leaves 2009 - and lots of speculation about what those returns might show. One theory making the rounds - and again it's only a theory - is that Romney paid no taxes in 2009. From Businessweek's Joshua Green:
When the stock market collapsed in 2008, the wealthiest investors fared worse than everyone else. The "ultra-rich" -- those with fortunes over $30 million -- fared worst of all, losing on average about 25 percent of their net worth. "There was really nowhere to hide as an investor in 2008," Merrill Lynch's president of global wealth management pointed out in 2009. "No region ended the year unscathed." As a member of the ultra-rich, Romney probably wasn't spared major losses. And it's possible that he suffered a large enough capital loss that, carried forward and coupled with his various offshore tax havens, he wound up paying no U.S. federal taxes at all in 2009. If true, this would be politically deadly for him. Even assuming that his return was thoroughly clean and legal -- a safe assumption, it seems to me -- the fallout would dwarf the controversy that attended the news that Romney had paid a tax rate of only 14 percent in 2010 and estimated he'd pay a similar rate in 2011.
*Washington Post's Chris Cillizza adds to the chorus:
By not releasing more of his tax returns -- and, therefore, allowing the issue to remain in the political conversation -- Romney is allowing the race to be focused far too much on him (and his money). No matter what's in the tax returns -- and our guess is that Romney likely paid very little taxes for several years due to the fact he was not drawing a salary -- it can't be worse than slowly dying a political death of 1,000 cuts as the media (and the Obama campaign) speculate about just why Romney won't release his returns. The truth -- in politics and in life -- is almost always less damaging than what the imagination can conjure.