Presidential candidate Mitt Romney took some heat this winter for delaying release of his tax returns and then, in January, released only one year’s worth (and an estimate for 2011). Now the calls for more disclosure are heating up again since the Washington Post reported that Romney is using an obscure ethics rule loophole to limit the disclosure of his Bain Capital holdings. An earlier Los Angeles Times article reported that Romney’s financial disclosure did not list many of the funds and partnerships that showed up in his 2010 tax returns, eleven of which are based in low-tax foreign countries such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg.
While it’s Romney’s offshore holdings that are making news, the fact is any government official using offshore tax havens right now is allowed to keep that a secret.
But that’s about to change. On March 29, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced a bill that would require members of Congress, candidates for federal office, and high-ranking federal government officials to identify which of their assets are located in tax havens when they file their required financial disclosures. The Financial Disclosure to Reduce Tax Haven Abuse Act of 2012 (S. 2253) would amend the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.
Although there’s nothing illegal about having an offshore account, estimates are that abuses facilitated by these accounts cost the U.S. Treasury over $100 Billion per year in lost tax revenue. And while the Durbin-Franken bill won’t make it illegal, it would have the effect of limiting that sort of tax dodging among public officials – or weed out candidates unwilling to tolerate a little sunshine.
In his floor statement introducing the bill, Sen. Durbin stated “it might seem ridiculous that we don’t already know whether candidates and Members of Congress are using offshore tax havens.” Sen. Franken, in the press release, said “Americans deserve transparency from public officials.” We could not agree more.
Photo of Mitt Romney via Gage Skidmore Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0