It may be a touch of deja vu that Mitt Romney’s campaign is being weighed down by questions about his taxes. A similar issue tripped him up during his 2002 run for governor of Massachusetts.
Romney was the Republican gubernatorial frontrunner that year when state elections officials investigated the fact that he received a major tax break on his $3.8 million mansion in Park City, Utah.
That June, the Boston Globe uncovered that Romney got a 45 percent discount on the mansion’s property taxes because the house was listed on local records as his “primary residence” from 1998 to 2000 while he oversaw the Winter Olympics. Had the house been a secondary residence, Romney would have had to pay the full rate.
The total break came to about $54,000, the newspaper reported. But more importantly, it implied Romney wasn’t a Massachusetts resident during those years. The state’s Constitution required candidates for governor to live in Massachusetts for seven years before the election.
Both Romney’s campaign and the tax assessor in Utah blamed a “clerical error” almost immediately and the candidate offered to pay the full rate. But it was enough for his critics to seize on.
Democrats quickly filed a complaint with state elections officials, which prompted an investigation. About two weeks after the story broke, Romney was called before the Massachusetts Ballot Law Commission to prove his residency.
He answered questions under oath for about four hours, most of it spent squaring off with a lawyer representing the Democrats. Romney said his primary residence was a house in Belmont, Mass., which his family had owned since 1971.
But according to a Globe story from the time, the hearing showed the Belmont house was kept in Romney’s wife’s name, he had obtained a Utah drivers license and even openly considered running for office in Utah.
At the end of the hearing, the commission ordered Romney to turn over pages from his 1999 and 2000 tax returns, reports show.
Days after the hearing, the bipartisan commission determined Romney met the qualifications to run for governor. Democrats declined to appeal and Romney went on to win the election. He remained governor until 2007.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com