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Why Romney's tax returns matter

By now, everyone is probably familiar with the predictable political tactic: wait until late on a Friday afternoon to release news you don't want people to see. It's a routine ploy in large part because it's so effective.

With this in mind, let's not overlook the announcement from the Romney campaign, made around 5 p.m. eastern on Friday afternoon.

Mitt Romney has filed for an extension on his 2011 taxes, his campaign said Friday. [...]

Romney plans to file his return sometime in the next six months, and prior to the election will release it, "when there is sufficient information to provide an accurate return,'' according to a spokeswoman, Andrea Saul.

There's no evidence to suggest there's a nefarious explanation for the delayed filing, and extensions are not uncommon. But the issue of Romney's elusive tax returns nevertheless continues to be an important one in the 2012 campaign. The presumptive Republican nominee is already earning a reputation as Mr. Secrecy, and the fact that he's being so stingy when it comes to disclosure matters.

What's more, this isn't going away. Benjy Sarlin reported, "The Obama campaign is launching a multi-pronged effort to highlight Romney's low 13.9 percent tax rate, demand close to two dozen years of additional returns and request more information about his foreign assets."

Of particular interest to Team Obama is the fact that Romney has decades worth of tax returns; he just won't share the materials with voters.

When Romney was considered for John McCain's 2008 ticket, for example, the former governor turned over 23 years worth of returns.

And yet, when it comes to voters, Romney was willing to share last year's returns, and his campaign has said he'll eventually share this year's materials, too. What about the documents that McCain saw before choosing someone else as his running mate? So far, Romney aides insist those materials will remain under wraps. Why? They won't say.

American Bridge 21st Century's Rodell Mollineau published a detailed memo, noting the 12 things Americans could learn from Romney's returns, if he discovers the benefits of disclosure. It's not a short list, reinforcing the significance of the issue.

For the record, President Obama and Vice President Biden have already put 12 years worth of returns online, available for public scrutiny.