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Romney pressed to release tax returns. Watchdogs ask what about Congress?

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It wouldn't be the first time that Congress held the president and members of the executive branch to a higher standard than it holds itself. When Congress passed ethics legislation in 1978 to correct abuses of the Watergate era, lawmakers exempted themselves from key provisions, including "revolving-door" restrictions on lobbying former colleagues.

Congress also exempted itself from the 1966 Freedom of Information Act – an exemption that extends even to commissions created by Congress, such as the so-called 9/11 commission. 

For a time, senators routinely submitted their tax returns in a sealed envelope delivered to the ethics committee, to be opened only if needed to inform an investigation. But the shift of financial records online ended even that practice.

"In an Internet age, those documents will be everywhere instantaneously," says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University. "A sealed envelope in the Senate is different than having tax forms circulating throughout the world, uncontrolled and unedited."

Unlike tax returns, financial disclosure forms for member of Congress are imprecise and requires members only to provide information within great ranges of income or assets, such as (no joke) $1 million to $5 million or $25 million to $50 million.

All Republicans and nearly two-thirds of Democrats in National Journal's most recent Congressional Insiders poll said that lawmakers should not have to disclose their tax returns.

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