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Assets on tax forms missing on Romney financial disclosures

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney signs autographs during a campaign stop at Paramount Printin
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney signs autographs during a campaign stop at Paramount Printin

By Mark Hosenball and Lynnley Browning

(Reuters) - A handful of financial holdings reported by U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on his tax returns was not declared in earlier government financial disclosures, his campaign acknowledged on Thursday.

A comparison of Romney's 2010 tax filings with a set of disclosure forms he submitted last year to government election officials showed some holdings listed in the tax returns were not listed in the publicly available disclosure forms.

U.S. law requires presidential candidates to disclose financial holdings, including stocks, bonds, IRA (individual retirement account) assets, mutual funds and bank deposits in forms filed with the government.

The tax returns, submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, were made public on Tuesday in response to pressure for Romney to release more details about the vast fortune he made while he was a private equity financier at Bain Capital.

Holdings listed in the tax returns, but not listed in the ethics disclosures, included entities in offshore jurisdictions such as Ireland, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Luxembourg, a review of documents by Reuters showed.

Romney's campaign and a Romney associate played down the discrepancies. They said that, if necessary, the candidate would file an amended financial disclosure form with federal authorities.

"The inescapable fact is that by releasing over 600 pages of information regarding his finances, Mitt Romney is clearly coming down on the side of disclosure," said Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman.

"Any document with this level of complexity and detail is bound to have a few trivial inadvertent issues," Saul said.

She added, "We are in the process of putting together some minor technical amendments, which will not alter the overall picture of Gov. and Mrs. Romney's finances as disclosed in August."

BUSINESS ACUMEN

Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania said in an email, "Voters would reasonably expect close attention to detail in all matters financial from a person who has premised his candidacy on his management skill and business acumen."

Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, said that anticipating a run for president, Romney and his aides "should have gone the extra mile to make sure" the paperwork was accurate, especially as Romney can certainly afford the best accountants and lawyers.

Speaking in Romney's defense, Mark Corallo, an official in former President George W. Bush's administration, said: "Whatever one thinks of Mitt Romney, he is as honest as the day is long. Any discrepancies in anything he has submitted are honest mistakes that are more the result of this byzantine tax code and disclosure requirements that are the enemy of all honest businessmen."

Romney's associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity at the request of the campaign, said some relevant information was not in the hands of Romney's entourage when his financial disclosure form was prepared and submitted to federal authorities.

The associate said the legal custodian of the assets prepared the list of securities for Romney and his team to put in the financial disclosures. The associate declined to identify the custodian. The campaign did not reply to a similar request.

The associate said Romney's team believed most if not all entities on his tax forms that did not appear in his public financial disclosure did appear in fact on the public filing but under a different name.

Romney's associate suggested other reasons why items listed in the tax returns might not have been in the financial disclosure. They included the possibility that some entities in which Romney held interests had inadvertently not transmitted relevant information to Romney; that some information was not received by Romney's accountants in time; and that some of the holdings were so small they did not meet a legal threshold requiring that they be reported.

QUESTIONS EMERGE

The associate also said some of the holdings listed in the tax return, but not in the financial disclosure, were owned by larger entities, which were appropriately listed in the financial disclosure.

In other cases, the associate said, investment funds in which Romney held stakes would not disclose information to Romney's financial and legal advisers about entities in which they in turn had invested on grounds of confidentiality.

The associate said the Office of Government Ethics, which receives and reviews public federal financial disclosures, had indicated it was legitimate for candidates denied information by fund operators about subsidiary investments to report such holdings as Romney had reported his.

Kenneth Gross, an ethics and disclosure expert at the Skadden, Arps law firm, said he had handled complex financial disclosure issues for wealthy people and therefore had sympathy for the assertions from Romney's camp that entities might have been listed under different names in different documents and that third parties may not have provided timely information.

He said he did not understand why Romney and the people who helped him prepare his disclosures did not reconcile them with his tax returns, or, if the tax return was completed after the financial disclosure, why the latter document was not amended earlier.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Cohen; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Howard Goller)

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