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Greg Sargent: A religious reason for not disclosing tax returns?

Mitt Romney’s latest excuse for not releasing his tax returns is that it would violate his religious privacy: “Our church doesn’t publish how much people have given,” Romney told Parade magazine in Sunday’s edition. “This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one’s financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.”

This explanation has several flaws. As Steve Benen noted on the Maddow Blog, we already know how much Romney gave to the Mormon church in at least one year, the one for which he made his returns available. At Salon, Alex Seitz-Wald pointed out that this didn’t stop Romney’s father from releasing a dozen years of his tax returns, which detailed how much he’d given to the church.

One more point: One person calling on Romney to release his returns happens to be a very prominent Mormon who has supported Romney in several races. Jon Huntsman Sr., who was a top fundraiser for Romney’s 2008 presidential bid, has said publicly that Romney needs to release his returns to be “square with the American people.”

Indeed, Romney’s latest excuse makes Huntsman’s call for him to release his returns newly relevant. What does Huntsman, a very wealthy man himself, think of Romney’s new explanation?

More broadly, this excuse is of a piece with something larger: an attempt to humanize Romney with a new focus on his faith. As Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins reported last week, the final night of the Republican National Convention will bring Romney’s Mormonism into the spotlight, with the goal of “presenting Mitt Romney the man to the electorate.” Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns may be one reason he comes across as inaccessible. Citing his Mormonism as a reason for not releasing them puts a human gloss on what comes across as a politically motivated and calculating decision not to be forthcoming about his past.

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