By Gabriel Debenedetti
(Reuters) - Seeking to put an end to questions about his personal finances, Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Thursday he paid at least a 13-percent tax rate every year over the last 10 years.
Democrats have criticized Romney for not releasing more than two years of tax information and openly asked whether the millionaire former private equity executive has something to hide about his wealth.
"I did go back and look at my taxes, and over the last 10 years, I never paid less than 13 percent," Romney told journalists in Greer, South Carolina. "I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that."
A campaign aide said the rate Romney was referring to was for his federal income tax.
Debate over Romney's taxes and the Medicare health program for the elderly has taken the focus of the campaign away from Romney's top issue: jobs.
Romney's announcement may have been an attempt to put a lid on an issue that has dogged him since January, when his Republican primary opponents accused him of being evasive about his personal finances.
But Democrats were not satisfied.
"He has the ability to answer all of these questions by releasing several years worth of tax returns and he simply hasn't done that. So we say: prove it Governor Romney," President Barack Obama's campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Romney this month of not paying taxes for 10 years, a claim the Republican has strongly denied.
Romney said on Thursday that when charitable donations were taken into account, his tax rate effectively has been above 20 percent.
"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.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, is one of the richest men ever to run for U.S. president. He has an estimated net worth of up to $250 million.
Obama's re-election campaign and its Democratic allies have featured Romney's wealth and refusal to release more tax returns in ads painting him as out of touch.
Polls show the strategy is working. Independent voters in swing states have a lower opinion of Romney after hearing about his business record and personal finances.
In January Romney released information showing he had paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent in 2010, mostly from capital gains on investments. The top tax rate for wages is 35 percent, while capital gains are taxed at a lower rate.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Eric Johnson in Chicago; Editing by Alistair Bell and Xavier Briand)