He called focus on his taxes "small-minded compared to the broad issues we face."
GREER, S.C. - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Thursday that he has paid a tax rate of at least 13 percent in each of the past 10 years, offering his fullest explanation to date of his tax status.
"I did go back and look at my taxes and over the past 10 years I never paid less than 13 percent. I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that. So I paid taxes every single year," he said.
Democrats have hit Romney repeatedly on the tax issue, using it as an illustration for their argument that the Republican presidential candidate's tax policies would favor the wealthy, like himself, over the middle class. They have said he pays a lower effective tax rate than many middle-class families. And they've said his refusal to publicly release more than two years of records shows he has something to hide about his personal finances.
In response to pressure from his rivals during the Republican primaries, Romney released his 2010 tax return in January, showing he paid 13.9 percent on his $21.7 million in 2010 income. That is the figure he was referring to Thursday, his campaign said, when he mentioned a 13.6 percent tax rate. His campaign declined to clarify whether Romney was talking only about his personal income taxes.
His campaign has been pushing back against accusations from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has claimed that he was told by an investor at Bain Capital, where Romney once worked, that the candidate had paid nothing in taxes for at least 10 years, due to his ability to take advantage of tax breaks.
But Romney said that Reid's charge is "totally false." He complained the tax issue has been a distraction during a time when the country faces tough challenges. "I just have to say, given the challenges that America faces -- 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty -- the fascination with taxes I've paid I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face," he said.
Democrats have said Romney's tax records are an illustration of the ways the wealthy can use loopholes and tax shelters to lower their payments to the government. Romney's tax rate is lowered by the fact that most of his annual income comes from investments, which are taxed at 15 percent, far below what he would pay on ordinary income. If earned as regular wages, Romney's income would otherwise put him in the nation's highest tax bracket and he would pay a marginal rate of 35 percent.
Democrats have pushed him to follow the model of his father, George Romney, who released 12 years' worth of tax records while running for president in 1968.
In an interview with NBC's "Rock Center With Brian Williams," the candidate's wife Ann Romney also said the couple planned to make no additional tax information public, insisting Democrats want the records for "ammunition" with which to attack her husband.
Interviewer Natalie Morales asked: "Why not be transparent and release more than the 2010 and the estimates for 2011?"
Romney said: "Have you seen how we're attacked? Have you seen what's happened?"
"Are you angry that it's been in the press?" Morales asked. "I mean, should you not be questioned about your finances?"
"We have been transparent to what's legally required of us," Romney said. "But the more we release, the more we get attacked, the more we get questions, the more we get pushed. We have done what's legally required, and there's going to be no more tax releases given. ...
"The other thing you have to understand is that Mitt is honest, his integrity is, is just golden. We pay our taxes. Beyond paying our taxes, we also give 10 percent of our income to charity. So we have no issues that way, and the only reason we don't disclose any more is, you know, we just become a bigger target."
Morales: "So it's because you will just continue to face more questions?"
"Well, it will just give them more ammunition," Romney replied.
Morales: "To the American people though, when they hear about perhaps accounts with your name on it overseas, and tax shelters, they feel like you may be hiding something."
"There's nothing we're hiding," Romney said. "We've had a blind trust for, how many years?"
'Prove it, Governor'
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said that Romney "has defied bipartisan precedent. His father put out 12 years of tax returns and Governor Bush put out his returns every year he was governor. But Governor Romney has put out only two years of returns."
He noted Romney's tax records and financial disclosure forms show he kept assets in an offshore account and transferred ownership of a Bermuda corporation before he became governor. "He has the ability to answer all of these questions by releasing several years of tax returns. ... We would say: 'Prove it, Governor Romney,'" LaBolt said.
President Obama's 2011 tax return showed that he paid an effective rate of 20.5 percent.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.