Addendum: The Dishonest Tax Day Anti-Trump Protests (And The Misleading Defenses Of Them)

How quickly we forget…

I wasn’t going to post any more on this topic, but in 2012 CBS helpfully provided some historical perspective on the supposed “tradition” of candidates releasing tax returns. Some revelations:

1. Donald Trump was not the “first candidate since Nixon” to refuse to release his returns.

Who else didn’t? Why H. Ross Perot, the third party candidate who cost George H.W. Bush re-election in 1992! And what a coincidence: Perot was also a billionaire with complex finances and conflicts! Had he been elected, and that was not beyond the realm of possibility, he, not Trump, would have been the first President since George Washington without elected office experience or experience in military command.  Perot got almost 20 million votes  from Americans who presumable cared about other issues more than Perot’s tax returns, or his refusal to release them.

So Trump was following tradition and practice: the tradition and practice of all billionaires running for President to refuse to release their taxes. The tradition even extends to some half-billionaires: Steve Forbes, another businessman who made a strong run at the GOP nomination in 1996, also refused to release his returns.

(By the way, Perot’s returns were not a major issue in the election, nor did the mainstream media harp on it. But there was some semblance of fair journalism then.)

2. When tax returns are released by candidates, the opposition will still find reasons to object, raise suspicions, and claim that they are not enough. Mitt Romney released two years of returns, and Democrats said he was hiding something nefarious.

In 2008, Barack Obama released seven years of tax returns, then accused Hillary, his opposition for the nomination, of hiding something. “Senator [Hillary] Clinton can’t claim to be vetted until she allows the public the opportunity to see her finances — particularly with respect to any investment in tax shelters,” Obama’s spokesperson Robert Gibbs said.

When the candidate has a rich wife, it is her returns that the opposition wants to see. In the Presidential campaign in 2008, Republican John McCain released two years of tax returns (for the years of 2006 and 2007). The Obama campaign wasn’t satisfied because the candidate, whose wife’s fortune makes him one of  the wealthiest members of Congress, did not release Cindy McCain’s tax returns. Was there a precedent for a potential First Lady releasing her taxes? Yes, but just one:  John Kerry released 20 years of tax returns when he ran against Bush, but refused to release  his wife’s returns. Teresa Heinz Kerry was worth more than $500 million at the time. Like Cindy McCain, she finally yielded to pressure and released her returns.

Neither of them had to yield, however, though in the cases of McCain and Kerry, it was their spouse’s taxes that mattered.

3.  The returns can be, as I wrote, a partisan stick used by the opposing party to undermine a President. While running for President against Perot and Bush, Bill Clinton released his tax returns for 1990 and 1991, and the years between 1980 and 1990 had previously been released. He initially refused to release tax returns prior to 1980. His better half, Hillary Clinton, said, “We just feel we have gone the extra mile. Talk about accountability. We feel we have been more accountable than most people who have been in this position, and we feel very comfortable about it.”

But after the election the Whitewater controversy heated up. Unlike the case with Trump, there was an actual, documented legal issue involving specific allegations of financial wrongdoing surrounding the Clintons to which their pre-1980 tax returns were obviously relevant. Under pressure, the Clintons finally released their taxes from 1977, 1978 and 1979, and the Whitewater investigation shadowed Clinton’s entire 8 years in office. Their returns also showed that Hillary got involved in cattle commodities trading where she made a suspiciously lucky $100,000.

Concluded CBS:

“The number of tax returns presidential candidates have released – both Republican and Democratic – has varied, often with much debate, hesitation and uproar.”

 

37 Comments

Filed under Finance, Government & Politics, History

37 responses to “Addendum: The Dishonest Tax Day Anti-Trump Protests (And The Misleading Defenses Of Them)

  1. Other Bill

    Thanks for posting this, Jack. Always nice to know what actual practices of these nature have been.

  2. Chris

    Perot got almost 20 million votes from Americans who presumable cared about other issues more than Perot’s tax returns, or his refusal to release them.

    “Americans care about other things more” =/= “Americans don’t care about this thing,” nor does it = “Therefore the president has no responsibility to do this thing.” Did the fact that Americans cared about other issues more than Benghazi when they voted for Obama in 2012 mean that should not have been investigated? This is not an argument against Trump releasing his taxes.

    So Trump was following tradition and practice: the tradition and practice of all billionaires running for President to refuse to release their taxes.

    Oh, that’s nuts. One outlier does not a tradition make. And you’re conceding too much here; we don’t know whether or not Trump is a billionaire, just that he claims he is; there is plenty of reason to doubt this. Having his tax returns could help us know whether or not this is true.

    (By the way, Perot’s returns were not a major issue in the election, nor did the mainstream media harp on it. But there was some semblance of fair journalism then.)

    Perot was a third-party candidate. Did anyone think he would win? I don’t see how the press not harping on this issue is any more or less “fair” than the press harping on President Trump’s tax returns.

    2. When tax returns are released by candidates, the opposition will still find reasons to object, raise suspicions, and claim that they are not enough.

    OK. And? Certainly you can’t be arguing that “I won’t do the right thing because I’ll be criticized for it anyway” is an ethical stance.

    3. The returns can be, as I wrote, a partisan stick used by the opposing party to undermine a President.

    Again: so what? You are arguing for reduced transparency in order to protect a politician from criticism. I don’t see how this is anything other than a rationalization to defend secrecy. Do you also support Trump’s choice to keep the White House visitor’s log, since that could also potentially be used against him, as it was used against Obama?

    Unlike the case with Trump, there was an actual, documented legal issue involving specific allegations of financial wrongdoing surrounding the Clintons to which their pre-1980 tax returns were obviously relevant.

    There are actual, documented legal issues involving specific allegations of financial wrongdoing surrounding Trump. Surely you know this.

    • Name one. Specific allegations based on fact, not pure speculation. There are no such allegations. The conspiracy theories about Russian collusion do not qualify, except on the fevered dreams of the Trump-deranged.

      • Other Bill

        Chris, I’m not sure there’s an IRS form on which you disclose “Rubles received from KGB.” Trump’s tax return is prepared by a bunch of in house and out house professionals. I suspect his foreign income is simply totaled up, maybe by country, and entered on the appropriate line. Without some other corroborating evidence of illegal payments, I doubt the tax return would provide a smoking gun, or even a very cold one. And again, if there were a smoking gun, I just can’t imagine it wouldn’t have been leaked to The Washington Post or The New York Times by now. Or there would have been an indictment handed down. But we do have the director of the FBI saying there is no evidence of collusion. Which is pretty darned unusual for an FBI director to say about a purportedly ongoing investigation, don’t you think?

      • Chris

        Name one. Specific allegations based on fact, not pure speculation. There are no such allegations.

        Is Trump a wizard? I ask because he seems to have this magical power to make otherwise intelligent people forget all about his scandals as soon as another one pops up.

        You’ve really forgotten about the self-dealing of the Trump Foundation, which is more than an allegation? You’ve forgotten about Trump University, which absolutely counts as financial wrongdoing? I’m pretty sure you wrote about both of these, Jack.

        • Chris

          More financial wrongdoing by Trump:

          The Empty Jewelry Box Scam

          Back in 1986 and likely for many years before, Donald Trump colluded in tax evasion with Bulgari Jewelry Store in New York, a high-end posh location with tony clientele right out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Here’s how the scam worked:

          Trump would go into the store with his wife, his girlfriend, his…whatever (to use his vernacular). He would then buy her an expensive necklace or wristwatch. Normally, such a transaction would face the New York city and state sales tax, which would be pretty high on luxury jewelry.

          In an illegal attempt to evade the tax, Trump “asked” the store to instead ship the jewelry to an out of state location, where no New York sales tax could be collected. In fact, the store would merely send an empty jewelry box to the location, while Trump and his lady friends walked out the door with the jewelry that very day.

          The state and city tax collectors eventually caught onto this scheme, and Trump promptly testified against his erstwhile tax evasion colluding partners at the jewelry store in order to save his own skin.

          https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanellis/2016/03/08/donald-trump-and-the-empty-jewelry-box-tax-scam/#1e46b5746a6b

    • “And you’re conceding too much here; we don’t know whether or not Trump is a billionaire, just that he claims he is; there is plenty of reason to doubt this. Having his tax returns could help us know whether or not this is true.”

      How in God’s name do you think it will do that? You know better than this, Chris. You FILE annual tax returns, you KNOW they only reflect single year earnings. There is absolutely NO way to even infer what you’re suggesting from tax filings.

      But let’s suspend disbelief for a minute…. Let’s say you’re right, DT is a pauper living in overextended, triple mortgaged buildings with cardboard furniture. In fact, we should probably watch him as he leaves the whitehouse to see if he takes any with him.

      So. What?

      Really… In that case: Is Trump’s net worth the most important lie he’s told? Is that the one that’s going to sewer him? Because it’s so important? What will it change? And for who?

  3. Wayne

    Isn’t this tax return issue kind of dumb and partisan in Trump’s case especially since we now face the real possibility of war with North Korea?

    • If it matters it matters, but yes, part of the point is that it is positively destructive for the “resistance” to try to derail the US leadership when a unified presence is essential, and distractions can be deadly—especially when the President involved is already waaaaaay over his head.

      But maybe if they can’t force the workers’, genderless, state indoctrinated political correctness paradise that they crave, they would just as soon see the world go up in a final big boom.

  4. Glenn Logan

    You were right, Jack, I did like this. Great article.

    Unfortunately, I am done with this debate. Apparently, there are those among us who will worry this issue like a dog worries a bone, and no amount of reason or logic will overcome their suspicion. Facts, to them, are not the equal of good old partisan speculation, rumor, and innuendo, and logic not the equal of rancorous partisanship justified by “tradition.”

    I was always told shouting at the wall was a fool’s errand. Apparently, I have to learn that over and over again. Or, I could be easier on myself and just acknowledge the aphorism, “You can’t fix stupid,” and the more recent observation that “bias makes us stupid.”

  5. Chris

    This is from the Sunlight Foundation, and answers the question “What can we learn from a tax return?” Even though it was written before the election, I still believe some of the information should be known. I’ve bolded what I think are the most important portions:

    Why are tax returns such a big deal?

    We believe tax returns, when considered in conjunction with financial disclosure forms, help paint a fuller picture of the candidate’s financial dealings. It’s a snapshot of their financial positions and interests. For more than four decades, presidential candidates have seemed to agree with our perspective, and every candidate since Carter has released tax returns voluntarily to the public.

    What do we glean from these separate pieces of information?

    From tax returns we learn:

    Yearly income of the candidate
    How much the candidate paid in taxes and the tax rate
    What deductions and tax credits claimed
    Real estate taxes and abatements
    Investments
    How much the candidate gave to charity (which could shed light on their values and priorities)
    To whom the candidate owes money
    Who are the candidates in business with and the financial positions of those companies (whether they have had gains or losses)
    May indicate if money is being held offshore
    On the financial disclosure forms:

    Outside Income
    Gifts
    Assets/property owned
    Specific investments/trusts
    Possible conflicts of interest
    Certain transactions/agreements made with businesses and people
    Positions held at different companies outside of the government
    Liabilities

    It’s also important to remember that unlike Congress, presidents are exempt from conflict-of-interest laws.

    This makes disclosure of income tax returns especially important to shed light on areas of possible conflicts of interest. Yearly salaries are often reported in the news but tax returns reveal so much more about the character of the candidate. Their debts give us a broader sense of the state of their finances, and perhaps more importantly an idea to whom they could feel beholden. We learn how much (or little) they paid in taxes, and whether they utilized loopholes in tax law to avoid paying those taxes. It sheds light on whether they conducted activity that they have criticized on the campaign trail.

    • Glenn Logan

      We already know Trump has more conflicts of interest than any president in modern memory. We knew this before he was elected.

      • Chris

        Then we should know the exact extent of them.

        Had Hillary been elected without releasing all her emails, would you be making the same argument you’re making now?

        • Sure he would. It would be a disingenuous argument for Republicans to make after Hillary’s election, just as insisting that Bill supply a list of all the women he had porked while Governor would be a cynical effort in post-election smearing. Try another rationalization; “come on, you would do it too” is out.

          • Chris

            Sure he would. It would be a disingenuous argument for Republicans to make after Hillary’s election, just as insisting that Bill supply a list of all the women he had porked while Governor would be a cynical effort in post-election smearing.

            Your analogies are getting worse and worse; this one is extraordinary. I don’t know how to begin explaining the differences, and I feel doing so would be insulting to us both.

            • That’s because it’s a perfectly good analogy. Both would be stale issues with no relevance after the election except to hyper-partisans seeking a fishing expedition. Unless there is criminal activity credibly alleged—the FBI had already ruled there was none in Clinton’s case—then conduct prior to election does not and should not have to be voluntarily disclosed.

              This is a clear issue that Democrats are have crippled themselves from perceiving in a welter of confirmation bias and Trump demonization.

              • Chris

                My god. So you really can’t see the difference between documents that are in the public interest–like a president’s emails and tax documents–and “a list of all the women Bill porked?” Seriously?

                There is bias here, Jack, but it’s all yours. You are going to ridiculous lengths to prop up a secretive president while discrediting legitimate protest. Part of it is your authoritarian bias, but I think a bigger one is false balance bias–you are determined to see Trump’s opponents as just as bad as, if not worse than, he is, and that just isn’t the case. Especially in this situation.

    • That sounds like a decent argument, actually. Now I’m wondering how things would play out in a theoretical case where a president disclosed their tax returns and the public reviewed them as intended by the people who make this argument. What would we do with that knowledge? I imagine it would be a bit different from how things would play out if Trump actually disclosed his tax returns in the real world.

      Of course, just because something may not work in the current environment doesn’t mean it’s an inherently bad idea. It could be that the reason it doesn’t work in the current environment is because the current environment needs to be fixed anyway. (I find that’s the case for a lot of things. The false dichotomy of an incomplete or broken solution versus no solution pervades politics, because people don’t know any different.) If we can figure out the practical applications of Trumps tax return information, that’s enough for me. Voter irrationality is a problem in and of itself that needs to be dealt with, so I’m interested in what we would do if it wasn’t an issue.

  6. I wonder what would have happened if Perot, rather than Buchannan, had mounted the primary challenge in 1992. Perot running as a Republican could have been trouble for Bush, and eventually, Clinton.

  7. Andrew Wakeling

    Decent governance can accommodate significant conflicts of interest but only if they are disclosed and appropriately addressed. It is highly disturbing that President Trump and so many of his appointees are awash in such conflicts and the old rules and conventions are being trashed. I can’t understand, Jack, how you can seem so blind to it all. And you denigrate those who are concerned. Bill Clinton’s ‘porking’ list is not a relevant parallel as there was never any significant conflict of interest involved.

    • Ethic Alarms has definitely stated that the conflicts are 1) stupid, and an impediment to effective and credible governing 2) in Trump’s case, unfixable at this point 3) the direct result of his Republican opponents, Hillary, and the news media virtually ignoring the issue during the campaign. Trump should have been given the choice of eliminating his major conflicts, or not running.

      It has also been made clear here that at this point, there is little Trump can do about his conflicts,and no law forces him to, because the Founders knew any President would have inherent conflicts…you know, like the Queen of England. The first billionaire President, George Washington, continued to run his plantation, and was therefore a direct beneficiary of his own policies, as any businessman/President will be. John Adams had a farm, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Harrison had plantations. Clearly, the Democrats are determined to bitch about this for four years, when they were primarily responsible for the problem.

      Check past posts before you call me “blind” in the future.

      • Chris

        Clearly, the Democrats are determined to bitch about this for four years, when they were primarily responsible for the problem.

        No, Trump is primarily responsible for the problem. If his conflicts truly are an “impediment to effective and credible governing” and “unfixable,” then he should not have run.

        there is little Trump can do about his conflicts

        Sure he can: he can resign.

        • A foolish comment. He was elected, and has a duty to serve. He also has a duty to mitigate the problems of is own making in order to serve. Of course he shouldn’t have run, but once he did run, it was the duty of his opposition and the news media to fairly and honestly explain why he was unqualified to serves, and to present an acceptable alternative. They didn’t. They share responsibility. All his conflicts create are an appearance of impropriety, and there are no laws saying a President can’t do that. When there is real impropriety, he’s accountable, and loose the dogs of war. But the Left has been so absurd mixing up the two that it has destroyed its own credibility.

          • Chris

            How will we know the difference between the appearance of impropriety and real impropriety? Especially since you condemn those who demand more transparency from this administration?

  8. Andrew Wakeling

    Jack, you say: “Ethic Alarms has definitely stated that the conflicts are …….. the direct result of his Republican opponents, Hillary, and the news media virtually ignoring the issue during the campaign.”

    Far too much of a stretch for me.

    • That’s because you don’t know what you’re talking about. The conflicts should have been a major issue and addressed long before the election. Everyone whiffed. Everyone, me included. Once Trump was elected, the issue was resolved: the conflicts stay.

      It’s pretty straightforward. Like so much else that allowed Trump to win, this issue was ignored because nobody seriously considered his victory to be possible.

  9. Andrew Wakeling

    The obligation to address the issues lies (and lay) primarily on Donald Trump and his appointees, not the press, or anyone else. And although never completely solvable there is plenty he could still do. Like acknowledging the problems and start taking some responsibility. And this is the candidate who promised to ‘drain the swamp’! Yes, the complainants may be seen as ineffective and ‘bitching on’, and there may be few ‘laws’ to help them. But withholding praise and approval certainly seems to have some effect on this President.

    • Chris

      The obligation to address the issues lies (and lay) primarily on Donald Trump and his appointees, not the press, or anyone else.

      I think the official line here is that Donald Trump is, unlike every other president, too stupid to ever be held responsible for his actions.

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