Outrage over tax returns a replay of past campaigns

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(CBS News) The battle over whether Mitt Romney should release more than two years of his tax returns may be filling a lot of airtime this campaign, but in reality it's a rerun of past presidential campaigns. And Romney's refusal to allow the world to deeply peer into his personal finances is also not a new development.

Dating back to 1980, the number of tax returns presidential candidates have released - both Republican and Democratic - has varied, often with much debate, hesitation and uproar.

President Obama's campaign continues to accuse Romney of hiding something by not releasing his taxes, feeding the theories that he houses his money in offshore bank accounts and avoids U.S. taxes through tax shelters in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Questions have also been raised about whether Romney has avoided paying taxes through available loopholes and exemptions.

Romney stands his ground on tax returnsNew Obama ad: Did Romney pay any in earlier years?

A look back at presidential campaigns in recent history reveals similar tax return issues have dogged the candidates, including one eventual president - Ronald Reagan - who, it turns out, avoided paying state taxes one year.

2008: John McCain vs. Barack Obama

Before the Democratic primary was decided, then-Sen. Barack Obama released seven years of tax returns, pressuring his challenger to do the same in March 2008.

"Senator [Hillary] Clinton can't claim to be vetted until she allows the public the opportunity to see her finances -- particularly with respect to any investment in tax shelters," Obama spokesperson Robert Gibbs said in a statement at the time.

Republican candidate John McCain released two years of tax returns for the years of 2006 and 2007 in April 2008, less than a month after Mr. Obama. The Obama campaign was not satisfied because the candidate, who is one of the wealthiest members of Congress due to his wife's income, did not release his wife's tax returns. 

In 2008, Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera criticized McCain saying, "Unless John McCain's idea of being a different kind of Republican means disrespecting the voters by denying them the right to examine the links between his political career and the McCains' business ventures, he should immediately release Cindy McCain's tax returns."

The Washington Post agreed. "Releasing tax information entails intrusion, but, as we wrote four years ago, presidential candidates and their spouses 'relinquish a significant measure of privacy. Meanwhile, tax returns provide information not contained in financial disclosure forms, such as charitable contributions and the use of tax shelters."

"This is a privacy issue. My husband is the candidate," Cindy McCain said interview with NBC's "Today Show."

However, she changed her mind in May and released a summary of her 2006 returns, which showed she made more than $6 million.

Mitt Romney has been pointing to McCain as evidence that two years of tax returns is sufficient, most recently during an interview Monday on Fox News Channel.

"You know, John McCain ran for president and released two years of tax returns. John Kerry ran for president. You know, his wife who has hundreds of millions of dollars, she never released her tax returns. Somehow this wasn't an issue," he said Monday.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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