May 12, 2007

Should Candidates Release Their Tax Returns?

Ever since Watergate, presidential candidates have released their tax records in order to show that they have nothing to hide. Only one major candidate refused to do so in the last twenty years, and Bill Clinton changed his mind for his re-election bid in 1996. This year, however, it looks like anyone releasing that information will be the exception rather than the rule (via Instapundit):

In a break with the tradition of recent presidential campaigns, most of the major presidential candidates aren't releasing their income-tax filings.

Edwards has indicated that he will keep his tax returns private, and while Romney is still considering his options, he has never released his returns in previous runs for office.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., aren't saying whether they will or not, but neither has released income tax forms filed this year.

That means voters are likely to know less about the income sources, personal wealth and charitable inclinations of the presidential candidates than in any election in the past generation.

"When you run for president, you really have to open yourself up to the American people," said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause, a government watchdog group. "If you're asking voters of this country to elect you as president, it's reasonable and rational that your tax returns are made public."

It almost sounds as though the campaigns may be colluding to end this recent tradition of openness. One might expect one or two candidates to take this position, but in a 20-candidate field comprising both parties, the sudden shift towards privacy seems rather suspicious. Just the competitive nature of the contest by itself would tend to incentivize a few of the candidates to disclose in order to claim an advantage over the others.

Beyond that, though, no one has made a compelling case for these releases. Common Cause may claim that releasing the returns are "reasonable" for presidential candidates, but what do they really tell us? They may give some insight into charitable contributions and a voyeuristic look into the income streams of the rich and famous, but they tell us little about the policies favored by the candidates. Offhand, I cannot think of a single major revelation about a candidate that came from the released tax returns that had an impact on an election.

Personal income had been considered a private affair before Watergate. After that scandal, which had nothing to do with tax evasion, candidates seized on the release of their 1040s as some sort of honesty test. It might be time to recognize that private income should remain private, and that tax returns give us little germane data about the candidates.


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Comments (16)

Posted by Mwalimu Daudi | May 13, 2007 12:09 AM

Here is my prediction: Democrat candidates who refuse to release their tax returns will get a pass from the MSM (remember Kerry's still-secret medical and service records?). Republican candidates who do the same will get pulverized.

Coincidentally, even Republicans who release their tax records will get pulverized as well. That is the MSM's idea of fair and balanced reporting - all GOP candidates must be slammed equally.

Posted by RBMN | May 13, 2007 12:50 AM

This one made some news:

The Washington Times - April 17, 1998
Inside Politics, By Greg Pierce


The GOP branded Al Gore as "Vice President Scrooge" Thursday for giving only $353 to charity last year. A press release from the Republican National Committee said: "Vice President Scrooge -- Al Gore raked in $197,729 in income last year. ... But according to tax returns released to the media this week, Gore gave just $353 to charity." Mr. Gore's office told reporters that the vice president and his wife, Tipper, should be judged by their giving over several years. They donated $35,530 in 1996 and $52,558 in 1992. The Gores also did not claim a tax deduction for contributions to their church and donations of food and clothing to the poor, a spokesman said. Still, the $353 figure opened the way for the RNC and columnists to make Mr. Gore look bad, reports Alan Elsner of Reuters news agency. The RNC noted that the average American family gave $696 to charity in 1996 and people in Mr. Gore's pay range gave over $3,379 on average.

Posted by Carol Herman | May 13, 2007 1:07 AM

Sometimes, things are just wrong!

It's wrong to ask someone whom they voted for. Because we're allowed privacy in the ballot box.

And, the IRS is supposed to catch cheaters. It's not the job of the general public to look over someone's personal return. Sorry.

I think there was a time in America, people didn't even tell their friends what their salaries were. And, it was rude to ask.

It's possible this "journalistic coup" exists, because candidates don't know how to stand up and fight back, when they are asked personal questions. NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS should be a response we all get comfortable giving.

In any case, it doesn't give you a "better" candidate!

I think Drudge had a headline the other day, as well. Where Mike Wallace asked Mrs. Romney if she had sex with her husband before the couple married. There used to be a time a man could get punched in the face for trying that question out in a public forum.

Not that politics ever brought out good manners in anybody. But it would stop, ya know, if the people ASKING got condemned.

Of course, how much lower can journalists go, in terms of having no reputations?

We also forget that there have been presidents that have had fun with the press. Because they get the best of the interchanges.

Last night I watched Robert Vaughn's FDR, one-man-show performance. And, you'd be surprised how good FDR was with the press! He took no crap. And, he always bested the journalists! JFK, and Reagan, too, always held the best responses.

So maybe that's what's missing? The journalists ask stupid questions; and these should be opportunities to "stick it to them."

Posted by buzzard | May 13, 2007 2:17 AM

We already know that it takes a millionaire to run for the office of President, so you are right what does it tell us other than they donated used underwear or how much they tithed to their church.

It is a waste of time and only gives late night talk shows fodder for bad parodies.

Posted by Trinity [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 13, 2007 3:02 AM

It might be time to recognize that private income should remain private, and that tax returns give us little germane data about the candidates.

While I agree with you in your conclusions, I disagree that it does not give us data about the candidates. Personally, I look for a candidate who has made money in the 'real' world..who has shown drive, determination and success 'out there'. On the flip side, I also like to know if the money is simply 'family money' does tell me quite a bit about the person. Having said that, I agree that it is an arcane practice. End it.

Posted by docjim505 | May 13, 2007 7:00 AM

The only things in a tax return that I would find especially interesting / germane is information about charitable contributions and taxes paid. Since (for example) Silky Pony yaps so much about "Two Americas", I'd be QUITE interested in knowing how much of his filthy lucre he contributes to the poor people in the "other" America. I'd wager that it isn't very much. I'd also wager that the candidates, who are all rich, pay a smaller percentage in taxes than many average Americans simply because they can afford top-flight accountants and tax lawyers who can tell them how to hide their income from the IRS or otherwise reduce their adjusted gross income. Remember the Hilldabeast writing off Slick Willie's used (ew!) underwear at $2 apiece as "charitable contributions"?

I believe that there will also be a double standard in this, with GOP candidates grilled by a hostile media about their tax returns (cf. the media's obsession with Bush's National Guard records, including his friggin' DENTAL records) while dem candidates get a pass (cf. the media's lack of interest in Jon Cary's records from Vietnam).

As for collusion... I wouldn't be a bit surprised. I'm sure that most of the candidates would rather people DIDN'T know how much money they make, or how little taxes they pay on it, or how small their charitable contributions are. It isn't hard at all to imagine a few low-level, off-the-record, totally-deniable contacts between the campaigns to reach an agreement on this. Let's call it "don't ask, don't tell" for 2008.

It will be interesting to see how the MSM deals with this. Assuming they don't blatantly apply a double standard, then I'd guess that they won't show much interest at all. They don't want to chance exposing Silky Pony as a hypocrite of breathtaking proportions, or that the Hilldabeast and Slick Willie are making millions from questionable business deals (I wonder if she still plays the cattle futures market? She was so gosh-darned GOOD at it, as I recall), or that Obama seems to make a helluva lot of money for a mere US Senator and former Illinois state representative.

It's really a filthy process...

Posted by Carol Herman | May 13, 2007 11:14 AM

No, there is nothing "germane" when you take your nose and stick it into somebody else's business.

People give to charities? That's a personal choice! You think you learn something when this is divulged? I doubt it. Because you let the press trespass, and make "news" out of something you're not entitled to know.

Ah, yes. Only the rich can become president. Well? People with day jobs don't have the time to galavant around the USA, seeking votes. And, most rich people? Would rather play golf.

That some candidates reach the White House and find it small? Perhaps.

Though FDR, whose family is famous for having money; was accused of being "cheap" in the foods he served to guests at the White House. Yup. When this was brought to his attention, he said he had a reputation, inside his family, too. Of "being penurious."

And, I know rich people who can put their hands in their pockets, and not extract any money, when they pull it out. Not a bad habit to have, ya know?

The best way we can get to having great presidents is noticing how well they do on the political stage. Which IS political theater.

Knowing what underpants Laurence Olivier was wearing under his custume, told you nothing about the quality of his work.

I think politicians, now, "to play it safe" are very boring.

But up ahead? We could get someone whose quick-witted with the press. And, who knows how to deflect the idiots when they ask their questions!

The presidents who do it best, are the ones we remember, BEST.

Intelligence is the gift you want to see.

Bozos with money? They come into office with their reputations for being idiots INTACT.

By the way, Fat Algore? Got "D's" in science. He wasn't the smartest kid in class. Only the one who held "the connections."

I call those connections, now, USELESS. Because we have an Internet.

And, a host like Ed Morrissey, who doesn't stint in paying for us all to chat freely. And, it's FREE!

A happy man is not necessarily a rich man, either. A happy man is a man who is FREE to speak. And, we should at least respect FREEDOM enough, to know when the presstitutes are crossing the line.

Besides, if they showed up a "false" IRS finding, that person who have the IRS looking up their financial asses. And, yes. It's enough to know that everyone running for BIG NAME jobs, keeps his resume. And, his tax returns. HONEST.

Heck, at Haaarvard, they finally caught a woman who was a dean of something useless. Because she never went to college. But her resume said she did.

Back to politicians. You're not going to believe them "more" because you see their returns. But finding someone BELIEVABLE is what most people are looking for. After years, and years, and years, of being sold the garbage designed by manipulators of images.

I'm pretty sick and tired of the old ways, now.

Posted by LenS | May 13, 2007 11:47 AM

I have to disagree. The returns of all candidates, their spouses and their dependent children need to be released with all supporting 1099's, W-2's etc. We need to know if they're getting income from foreign govts. or if they're being financially rewarded for the positions they advocate. If Gore where to run, it'd be nice to know how his environmental policies are making him rich through his investments and director seats. Let's see what Romney makes. Let's see who's paying Giuliani to consult. Let's definitely see what Clinton is hiding behind the class war rhetoric. Let's see if someone like Soros is supporting a nut job like Kucinich.

Privacy for rich public figures comes very close to royal privilege as it helps to hide what's going on behind the scenes. They don't have to run for President.

Posted by Bachbone | May 13, 2007 1:26 PM

Unless a candidate is demagoguing an issue, or an opponent, involving income, wealth, taxes, etc., I don't care what (s)he earned or paid in taxes. But every candidate should have to tell voters where every penny of his/her campaign funds come from, including "in kind" contributions, and not just report after the election is over.

Posted by Rhymes With Right | May 13, 2007 2:26 PM

I don't know that we really learn anything significant from the tax returns. Really, are Ann Romney's medical bills for her MS really that important that they should be disclosed for the world to see? Do we really have a right to know who the different candidates give charity to?

Posted by richard mcenroe | May 13, 2007 3:32 PM

I want their tax records, their account numbers, the credfit card info and their debit card PIN numbers.

Anytime someone takes a job with a $165k salary and six years later he, she or it is worth eight figures, they're doing something illegal, and it's only fair we should steal back from them...

Posted by Joehelgerson | May 13, 2007 7:19 PM

The msm will protect the democrats and viciously attack the republicans.....blah blah blah

Posted by Joehelgerson | May 13, 2007 7:55 PM

The msm will defend the democrats but viciously attack the poor republicans......right

Posted by richard mcenroe | May 13, 2007 9:50 PM

Once upon a time you could hope that candidates would be embarrassed to grub for money from Chinese temples and Saudi princes.

We can't count on that anymore.

I want every penny from every source accounted for.

Posted by dragoneer | May 14, 2007 12:42 AM

The real story - the pass this will give to Hillary and all of the tens of millions of dollars she and Bill have raked in for his speaking engagements. How much came to Bill from Dubai - remember he's the future Ambassador of America to the world, or so Hillary says, if she gets elected. I assume they file a joint income tax return. At least their tax returns would open the door for some questions - and probably fairy tale answers

Posted by Richard Cook | May 14, 2007 8:43 AM

So the presidents become rich. Big deal. Are we mad because they become rich or because they successfully work the system. Created by other politicians. Who are put into office by we the people. Who want something for nothing. I just can't get worked up over the tax return issue. What useful information does it give us, or, is it an excercise we go throught every election cycle. Wouldn't it be better to have real debates with no structure allowing all candidates (libertarian, dem, repub, socialist, etc.) a platform?