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Donald Trump said Tuesday he will not release his tax returns before the election because “there’s nothing to be learned from them,” potentially making him the first major presidential nominee not to release a full return in 40 years.
Perhaps what the presumptive Republican presidential nominee really means is that he has nothing to gain politically by releasing his returns, but the public could learn quite a bit.
For instance, we might discover that despite Trump’s actual earnings, his taxable income isn’t much at all because, as some suspect, he may write off most of his lavish life style as “business expenses.”
If widespread speculation is true, this would mean that American taxpayers are footing the bill for a big share of Trump’s private jet, his golf outings, his mansions, and who knows what else. In a February 2016 article for The National Memo, David Cay Johnston outlines nine “bombshells,” that Trump’s tax returns may reveal, including how arcane tax rules may allow him to remain relatively tax free.
If Trump, who is vying to be the next president of the United States, is living large at the expense of the rest of us, doesn’t the public deserve to know?
During the thick of the Republican primary, Trump vowed to release his tax returns, but he has since resisted by claiming that he cannot release them while the IRS is auditing them. This flimsy excuse is simply not true. In a statement, the IRS wrote, “nothing prevents individuals from sharing their tax information.”
Ironically, Trump in 2012 said that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was “hurt really very badly” by not releasing his tax returns and that Romney should have released them by April 1. No word on why what was good for Romney is not good for him.
Trump in so many words has declared that his business acumen and negotiating skills qualify him for the highest office in the land. In that vein, his tax returns may contain critical insights into how he is using the tax code to build his wealth.
During the 2012 campaign, for example, Mitt Romney’s tax returns exposed a myriad of loopholes that allowed him to pay a paltry 14 percent tax rate on millions in earnings. Specifically, Romney’s returns brought attention to the preferential rate on capital gains and also illustrated how some wealthy individuals use offshore shell companies or avoid taxes through special IRAs.
Given that Trump’s tax plan includes trillions in tax cuts for the wealthy, it isn’t surprising that he may be trying to hide from the public’s view the numerous ways that tax system is already rigged in favor of wealthy individuals like him.
But here’s the thing. A president is accountable to the American people. The electorate must demand more than bombastic proclamations and shouldn’t concede the point when a politician declares, “trust me I know how to get it done.” We should also be wary of allowing a presidential contender to go against the grain of what almost every presidential candidate in the last two generations has done–release at least one detailed tax return.
Donald Trump may have turned conventional wisdom on its head this election cycle, but we shouldn’t allow him to rewrite critical rules that have helped reveal the character and agenda of our presidential contenders.