Wealth, transparency issues dog Romney campaign

"Late Show with David Letterman" does a comparison of singing President Obama and singing Mitt Romney. AP Photo

Who's cooler singer? Obama or Romney?
AP Photo

(CBS News) The Obama campaign on Friday sought to capitalize on a report in the Washington Post that said rival Mitt Romney has taken advantage of federal ethics laws to legally avoid disclosing specific details about his wealth.

Launching an attack from the president's own Twitter account, the Obama campaign asked, "So what's Romney hiding? Tweet @MittRomney to demand he release his tax returns." They attempted to keep the meme alive online with the hashtag #WhatsRomneyHiding, used by Democrats like Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Obama campaign spokesperson Ben LaBolt.

The Post's report gave the Obama campaign the opportunity to fully embrace the line of attack that Romney's GOP rivals have used in the primary, casting him as a self-interested corporate raider, part of the unfairly privileged 1 percent of society.

On CBS' Face the Nation last Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden said "Romney is a little out of touch" with the middle class. This election, he said, "is about the middle class and none of what he is offering, does anything."

Attacks casting Romney as a wealthy elite -- illustrated by his ties to the company he founded, Bain Capital -- may have slowed his primary campaign. Still, he appears to be on the verge of securing the nomination as Republican voters look for a candidate best outfitted to defeat Mr. Obama in the fall.

And while Romney's chief GOP rival, Rick Santorum, was able to contrast Romney's corporate background and extreme wealth to his own relatively humble beginnings, the Romney campaign could effectively turn the "elitism" argument back around at Mr. Obama.

Romney's disclosure reports do raise serious questions about he nature of Romney's investments, as well as the level of transparency that should be required of politicians. As the Post points out, Romney used a legal loophole to give a limited picture of his assets, leaving it unclear whether his wealth is invested in controversial companies. He declined to identify the underlying assets in 48 accounts with Bain Capital because they are covered by a confidentiality agreement with the company.

Romney's reports are in line technically with the letter of the law and were certified by the Office of Government Ethics. Furthermore, his campaign says he hasn't known the details of his investments since they were turned over to a trustee.

Still, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina charged Romney "put his personal financial assets in a black box and hid the key."

"Mitt Romney has asked Americans to elect him President based on his experience as a corporate buyout specialist," Messina said in a statement. "Each week, new questions are raised about whether he took unusual steps to avoid paying his fair share in taxes."

In response, Romney campaign spokesman Andrea Saul said, "President Obama will do anything to try and distract Americans from his failed record of chronic unemployment, lower incomes and higher gas prices."

In the past, when Mr. Obama's team has chastised Republicans for failing to set higher ethical standards for their campaign financing, Republicans have shot back that the president is failing to meet the spirit of his own promises by hobnobbing with corporate donors.

Furthermore, it's clear the Romney campaign thinks Mr. Obama is also vulnerable to being cast as "out of touch."

Watch Romney, after sweeping three primaries, call Obama out of touch, in the video at left.

On a campaign stop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Thursday, Romney said of Mr. Obama, "We have a president who I think is a nice guy, but he spent too much time at Harvard, perhaps, or maybe just not enough time working in the real world."

While Romney in fact spent more time at Harvard than Mr. Obama, he often touts his "real world" business experience. On Wednesday, Romney berated his "out-of-touch liberal friends" and cast the president as an obtuse academic intent on creating a "government-centered society" and "crushing the dreams ... crushing the dreamers."

Issues of wealth and elitism are sure to continue to dog both candidates as they compete for working class votes -- especially in key states like Ohio, where manufacturing is a key sector of the economy and the percentage of residents with a higher degree is below the national average. Polling out of Ohio and other key states suggest both Mr. Obama and Romney have work to do winning over those voters.

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