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10 Theories About What Mitt Romney's Really Hiding in Those Tax Returns

Everyone knows it's something that would damage an already weak candidate, but nobody knows exactly what it is.

Mitt Romney knows how to do a cost-benefit analysis, and he's determined that it's better to be dogged by reporters for failing to release his tax returns for the duration of the 2012 campaign than it is to make the documents public. Never mind that a majority of Americans – and a third of Republicans – think he should come clean.

It's beyond obvious that whatever's in those returns must be enough to do serious damage to Romney, or even sink his candidacy completely.

What might it be, exactly? In the vaccuum Romney has created by not disclosing, any number of theories have been floated as to what his returns could reveal. For your convenience, we've collected 10 theories that are making the rounds in the political press.

1. Mormon Tithes

Mormons are expected to fork over 10 percent of their income to the Church of Latter Day Saints. And that fact leads us to two theories.

First, Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press speculated that Romney doesn't want to remind evangelical Christians that he belongs to what many consider a non-Christian “cult.” “The Republican candidate's commitment to the church is a double-edged sword in the contest for the presidential nomination,” she wrote. “Many GOP voters are Christians who do not consider Mormons to be part of historic Christianity. Romney supporters worry that details of his church donations contained in the tax returns could fuel opposition to him based on his religion.”

But it may be the other way around – perhaps he doesn't want to piss off Mormons. After all, the right-wing Daily Caller reported that in 2010 and 2011, the two years for which Romney released partial returns, it looks like the former Mormon bishop under-tithed the church, paying 7 percent of his income one year and 9.7 percent over the two-year period. As the  Caller noted, “Romney recently told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, 'I made a commitment to my church a long, long time ago that I would give 10 percent of my income to the church, and I’ve followed through on that commitment. So, if I had given less than 10 percent, then I think people would have to look at me and say, ‘Hey, what’s wrong with you fella — don’t you follow through on your promises?’”

Of course, if he were sheltering additional income in offshore accounts, then the degree to which the  Caller says he shortchanged the Mormons might be even greater.

2. Things That Might Infuriate the Base

Mitt Romney, who just four years ago was dubbed the “conservative alternative” to John McCain is probably, as he claims, “severely conservative.” But when he wanted to become governor of Massachussetts, he played to that state's politics, swearing to protect a woman's right to choose, saying that climate change isn't a socialist plot and generally being reasonable. He passed the precursor to Obamacare, which he now condemns as a sign of looming tyranny.

Rick Newman at US News and World Report wonders whether Romney really stopped supporting those causes when he claims to have converted himself into a far-right Republican. Could he have a bunch of itemized deductions to, say, Planned Parenthood listed on those returns? We'd be wrong not to speculate.

3. Harry Reid, Lazy Blogger

That's how Wonkette characterized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's unsourced, second-hand rumor that Mitt Romney paid no taxes at all over a 10-year period. (This is very unlikely, due to the Alternative Minimum Tax.)

But many, many people have speculated that the reason Mitt doesn't want to reveal his tax returns is that they will show that he paid a significantly lower rate than his campaign has claimed in the years prior to 2010.

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