Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, he should step up and do as every major party presidential candidate has done for 36 years — release his tax returns.
Let’s see how Trump’s professed tax reforms, such as they are, might raise or lower his own taxes. Let’s see if he’s as wildly wealthy as he claims to be. Let’s see where his charitable heart lies, if it lies anywhere.
Trump just makes stuff up, unmoored from worries about truth or accuracy. Every word he says should be checked against a written record. More so than for any other presidential candidate in decades, Trump’s tax returns might well reveal what we’ve really got here — a person of some substance or utterly hot air.
As early as February 2015, even before declaring his candidacy, Trump told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he would, if he ran, “release his tax returns.” His position has since morphed to promising to release them after an IRS tax audit of his returns since 2009 is completed. But Trump also has refused to release returns — which he has promised are “very beautiful” — from years that are no longer under audit.
Trump is just stalling, which begs the question of what he’s got to hide. There is no legitimate reason he should not release all his returns immediately.
Here are our top five reasons why Trump should release his returns:
An audit is no excuse.
President Richard Nixon released his tax returns in 1973 while under audit, following questions about a large deduction he had claimed for donating his vice presidential papers to the National Archives, according to presidential tax historian Joseph Thorndike. There is precedent, then, for taxes under audit being released to the public.
In addition, while under an IRS audit, Trump released his tax returns to state gambling officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to CNN. If he was willing to reveal his returns to state regulators to get a casino license, we can’t see why he shouldn’t reveal them to the voters he is asking to elect him leader of the free world.
And IRS officials have said “nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.”
Releasing tax returns is an expected part of the process.
Nominees of both parties have been releasing their tax returns for 36 years. Trump knew, on the day he announced his candidacy, this was part of the deal.
Then-Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter released his returns in 1976, spurred by the wave of political skepticism that followed Watergate, said Thorndike, who directs the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts. Carter’s 1976 GOP rival, Gerald Ford, released a summary of his returns. But in the 1980 race, both Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan released full returns, Thorndike said, and “the string is unbroken” since then.
“They all chose to do it,” he said, “as a way of demonstrating their transparency, honesty and integrity.”
Strategically, Trump would be smart to release his tax returns sooner rather than later — and get any possible blowback behind him. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has posted eight years of tax returns on her website, which she loves to point out.
A tax return reveals information that a financial disclosure document does not.
Last year, Trump released a 92-page financial disclosure form. But that form provides a different set of information than a tax return, which includes charitable deductions (has Trump really contributed to veterans?), annual income, dividends from investments and tax deductions. And a financial disclosure form is not subject to the same kind of rigorous scrutiny the IRS gives tax returns.
“The agencies that review them are focused on making sure that the forms are completed and disclosed, but don’t check that the information in them is accurate,” said Noah Bookbinder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which raised questions about the accuracy of IRS forms filed by the Donald J. Trump Foundation, Trump’s charitable organization.
Trump’s tax platform demands disclosure of his tax returns.
Trump’s website touts a tax reform policy that will “simplify the tax code to reduce the headaches Americans face in preparing their taxes and let everyone keep more of their money.” He’s recently said that his proposals are a starting point for negotiation and the nation’s wealthiest individuals may not wind up getting a tax cut, or at least not as big a cut as he is proposing.
Common sense says the public has a right to know how he would be affected by his own tax plan.
What’s good for the goose….
During the 2012 presidential race, Trump said he believed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney “was hurt really very badly” by failing to disclose his tax returns by April 1. Said Trump at the time: “April 1st historically is the time that everybody gives them.”
Mr. Trump, you’ve blown that deadline. Time for full disclosure.
Follow the Editorial Board on Twitter: @csteditorials