Romney Presses Obama on Cronyism, Gets Hit on Lack of Transparency

Pressure for Romney to be more forthcoming with his finances mounts.

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In an attempt to put pressure on the Obama campaign, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney called out the president for practicing cronyism from the White House by rewarding political donors with federal handouts.

"This is a tough time for the people of America, but if you are a campaign contributor to Barack Obama, your business may stand to get billions of dollars or hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from the government," Romney said on Monday during an appearance on Fox and Friends. "I think it's wrong. I think it stinks to high heaven."

But the attacks also served to open Romney up for criticism from good government groups—from the Center of Responsive Politics to the Sunlight Foundation, who issued a joint press release asking Romney to be more transparent about his major campaign donors.

[Read: Romney campaign hits panic button following Bain attacks.]

"For the exact same reason that Romney is asking for Obama to disclose favors to his donors, people want to know who are Romney's donors are because there's no way that in the future anybody could find out whether or not Romney does favors for his donors unless we know who those donors are," says Kathy Kiely, managing editor for the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes government transparency.

Romney's campaign identifies all the donors required by law, but not those known as 'bundlers' who act as power fundraisers of sorts, soliciting donations from their friends, family and others in addition to their own. The Obama campaign does.

"Doing all that the law requires is fine except that I would think that if there are other people—and in this case President Obama is disclosing his donors—so why isn't Mitt Romney? What is he trying to hide?" she asks.

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Romney's campaign was already trying to use the cronyism case, citing examples such as the energy company Solyndra which received millions in government monies only to go bankrupt, while at the same time having ties to at least one Obama campaign donor, to distract from the pressure they are under to release more tax returns from the former Massachusetts governor. Under pressure from GOP rivals, Romney released his 2010 tax returns and an estimate for 2011 earlier this year, which revealed bank accounts in Switzerland and corporate entities in Bermuda. The filings also showed Romney paid an effective tax rate of about 15 percent, much lower than typical working Americans, based on the fact that most of his earnings came from investment earnings and not wages.

But questions about his earnings—as well as the timing on when he handed over leadership of his investment company Bain Capital—have prompted Democrats and Republicans alike to call on him for more transparency regarding his personal finances.

[Read: Romney gets booed during NAACP speech.]

Kiely says voters rightly expect more of their presidential candidates than they would of private citizens.

"We saw a lot of news earlier this year about a lot of outrage generated over members of Congress possibly casting votes that may have affected the stock values of companies in which they had financial interests. It's the same thing here," she says. "When you're running for office and certainly the highest office in the land you owe the public a lot of information about what your financial interests are so that the public can judge if you are putting their interests before your own or vice versa."

Both campaigns could do more to come clean with the public, Kiely adds.

"President Obama is using what we would call 'dark money'—he's got Super PACs, people writing big checks," she says. "I just think that every time that somebody is trying to put something behind a curtain it raises legitimate questions about what's being hidden."

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.

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