Obama, Romney Campaign Managers Trade Emails Over Tax Returns

The campaign managers for the Obama and Romney campaigns exchanged email today regarding the issue of Mitt Romney’s tax returns, in what can only be described as a rather silly political stunt:

(CNN) - President Barack Obama’s campaign sought to turn up the pressure Friday on Mitt Romney to release his tax returns, offering to back off on their calls for the release of additional years of returns if he agrees to disclose five years of tax information.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina offered the deal in a letter sent to Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades. The Obama campaign posted the letter on its web site and emailed it to journalists.

“If the Governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more-neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign,” Messina wrote. His offer did not include a promise to avoid attacking Romney on the contents of any new returns, or make any commitments for independent third party groups.

A rejection of the Obama team’s offer of a deal came from Rhoades came less than two hours later.

“Thanks for the note,” Rhoades wrote. “It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending.”

Rhoades wrote that Messina and his campaign could continue talking about Romney’s tax returns – but that his team would focus on the economy.

“If Governor Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days,” Rhoades wrote. “In the meantime, Governor Romney will continue to lay out his plans for a stronger middle class, to save Medicare, to put work back into welfare, and help the 23 million Americans struggling to find work in the Obama economy.”

Yea, the response from the Romney camp was obviously known to Messina before he sent the email, meaning the whole thing was less a serious offer and more a political stunt. For better or worse, and I think it’s worse but I’m not the one running a Presidential campaign, the Romney campaign has decided to stand firm on the tax return issue. Unless there’s polling evidence showing that this position is hurting the candidate, and to date there simply isn’t, I doubt they’re going to change their mind.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Taxes, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. When I heard of this it struck me as the set-up for a debate exchange.

    Romney said yesterday that he “never paid less than 13 percent?” We had in that thread responses from normal, working class people, who pay much more than 13 percent.

    So, be ready for Mitt to be hit about the head and shoulders because (a) he’s admitted he pays a lower tax rate than normal folks, and (b) he won’t tell us exactly how low.

  2. Oh, and of course be prepared for him to be hit about the head and shoulders for picking a running mate who would have him pay even less (0 to 1 percent!).

  3. anjin-san says:

    the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending.

    Obama has been talking about these issues for four years. Republicans have been talking about death panels/Kenyan Muslim/terrorist fist bumps/teh socialism and so on…

  4. Moosebreath says:

    Given that Romney’s camp has been saying that if he gives out anything else, people will still demand more, this was reasonably well done by the Obama’s campaign. He looks like he is meeting Mitt more than halfway, and gets rejected by him.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    Here’s the deal, in exchange for 10 years of tax returns:

    (1) We’ll stop demanding to see the bill for installation of the car elevator in La Jolla
    (2) We’ll stop talking about Seamus’ vacation in Canada

  6. @anjin-san:

    Obama has been talking about problem solving, while Republican have been making sure he does not succeed:

    The authors of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, who have found themselves ostracized by the Sunday morning shows where they had always previously been welcome, appeared Sunday on MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes to discuss the book.

    Mann explained that the separation of powers provided for by our Constitution deliberately creates a situation in which that Congressional majorities are unable to act without some degree of cooperation with the other party. Now that “one of those political parties has veered off the tracks” and become “aggressively oppositional,” it has many tools available to prevent legislation from being passed or enforced.

    Ornstein singled out the filibuster as a large part of the problem, because it is being “used routinely,” even on non-controversial legislation. However, he also pointed to Republicans voting even against their own bills in order to avoid giving President Obama anything that would look like a victory.

    “Problem-solving used to be the name of the game,” he continued. “But problem-solving now — partly it’s the era of the permanent campaign — has taken a back sea to short-term victories.”

    Mann added that any Republicans who were interested in problem-solving have left the party over the years, while those who remain are “vehemently ideological” and consider themselves to be “engaged in a holy war.”

    Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein are conservatives (of the frustrated pragmatic type).

  7. @this:

    “Problem-solving used to be the name of the game,” he continued. “But problem-solving now — partly it’s the era of the permanent campaign — has taken a back sea to short-term victories.”

    You know, I have a vague memory of an old, old, OTB post about “pragmatists are bad, because pragmatists compromise, and compromise is bad.”

    Maybe it wasn’t that bad, but I wouldn’t say OTB has been pro-pragmatism since.

  8. Septimius says:

    @john personna:

    Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein are conservatives (of the frustrated pragmatic type).


  9. stonetools says:

    It may be a political stunt, but it will work because it looks like Romney is stiff arming a reasonable offer by the President, Unfortunately for him , what’s in those returns is just too toxic.
    Two things also seem likely.

    1. The toxic stuff is in the 2007-2009 returns
    2.The Obama Administration has some idea of what it is.

  10. Rafer Janders says:

    Yea, the response from the Romney camp was obviously known to Messina before he sent the email, meaning the whole thing was less a serious offer and more a political stunt.

    My god, a political stunt! In the middle of a political campaign, no less! They’re politicizing politics!

  11. @Septimius:

    That’s the way it looks from the middle. I’m sure that’s NOT the way it looks from the hard right.

    “Norman Ornstein, along with Thomas E. Mann, of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project. He helped draft key parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as the McCain-Feingold Act. Ornstein considers himself a centrist.”

  12. @Septimius:

    You shouldn’t down-vote Septimius. I did trust that first souce I found

    So bonafide conservatives Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein published a new book out that blames Republicans for Washington’s legislative gridlock ..

    but I did kind of sense that site wouldn’t be completely trustworthy on “bonafide conservatives” so I tried to hedge it with “of the frustrated pragmatic type” placing them there as moderates somewhere near me on the political spectrum.

  13. anjin-san says:

    @ john personna

    By the standards of the right in the year 2012, President Eisenhower was a socialist/communist, and an appeaser to boot.

  14. Septimius says:

    @john personna:

    The way it looks from the hard right is that a guy who calls himself a centrist is not a conservative.

  15. Hoot Gibson says:

    Why would any sane person trust Obama’s promises on anything?

  16. David M says:

    I do think anytime we’re discussing Mitt Romney not releasing his tax returns that it’s not a good day for Romney.

    So, did you hear that Romney paid at least 13% in taxes?

  17. anjin-san says:

    @ Hoot Gibson

    Why would any sane person trust Obama’s promises on anything?

    Seen Bin Laden recently?

  18. C. Clavin says:

    What you are missing in the story is that on Wednesday Ann Romney was whining about how no matter what Romney provides the Obama camp will want more, more, more.
    Messina is responding to that…saying release 5 years and we will commit to not asking for more. Of course Romney said no…because he is scared to death of showing something that is in there.
    The bottom line is that your charachterization (and CNN’s) is in error. Campaigns are discussions. You can’t jump into the middle of the discussion and jump to conclusions because the conclusions will be wrong. Of course in this case your conclusions supports “your guy” so there you have it.

  19. legion says:

    @Septimius: There’s a rapidly-increasing gulf between “conservative” and “Republican”. Conservatives aren’t necessarily becoming more liberal, but people who still call themselves Republicans (or still haven’t noticed the shift) have moved to a different time zone.

  20. Hoot Gibson says:

    Huh? What??? Did Bin Laden release his tax returns?

    Please provide a link. lol

  21. Jib says:

    @stonetools: Yep, and Obama just told Romney that they know what he is hiding. Which may not be much, the 13% is pretty damning to average Americans.

    The problem may be that the way Romney paid 13% is very embarrassing to several people. We know that congressmen put very specific tax loopholes in bills to benefit individual supporters. Romney may well have used something like this to keep his taxes low. Especially since he structured his own exit compensation from Bain. No doubt specially tailored to maximize tax benefits and maybe even to take advantage of special ‘just for Romney’ loopholes.

  22. wr says:

    @Jib: That 13% exists only in one place — a statement by Mitt Romney, completely unsupported by any evidence, except for the one year’s worth of partial returns he’s released.

    He could have been claiming the earned income tax credit for all we know.

  23. anjin-san says:

    @ Hoot Gibson

    Republicans should not attempt humor. You are just no good at it.

  24. Mr. Replica says:

    The more Romney talks about his taxes, the more Obama(I think)has him by the balls regarding this issue.
    While I do agree that we should be talking about a tax system reform, rather than one persons obvious gaming of the system. I do think it would be very damaging to Romney and his wanting to lower taxes plan. Especially if these unknown tax returns actually show Romney paying very little.
    Why would anyone(outside if the zero taxes crowd)want to allow someone to lower the taxes even further, when it’s known that people like Romney can already pay any rate they want?

    Considering Romney is silent, if not extremely vague, about which exact loopholes he would close in the tax code. What makes people think that he would actually follow through to close loopholes he himself might have used?

    I see this tax return issue would be very damaging to Romney’s plans. Not because he might not have payed taxes, because it would show just how much wealthy people like him ACTUALLY pay in taxes.

  25. sandy hotchkiss says:

    @john personna: this is just a stupid comment. The point that romney needs to come out with is how many of the voters live in a 3.5 million dollar house and has a estimated net worth of 10 million dollars. This is the bio on Obama, and the only differance in the wealthy is the price of there toys. There are no levels of the poor, just the daily process of how to feed and keep their family safe.