Trump’s tax returns

It is clear that Donald Trump is anxious to not follow the tradition now extending back many decades of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns. The practice began in 1963 with candidate George Romney (father of Mitt) who released 12 years of returns. Since then, almost all presidential candidates and every eventual Democratic and Republican nominee has done so.

I have not quite understood the point of this practice. What are we supposed to learn about the candidates that would help us evaluate them better? We usually have a rough idea of how wealthy they are, if that is an important factor. What reporters have focused on is the effective rate of taxes paid and the percentage of income given to charities but it is not clear how important this information is. But the tradition of releasing has now been set. If Trump had said from the beginning that he did not see the point of releasing tax returns and objected on principle because it was a violation of his privacy, that would have been defensible.

But that is not what he did. Trump has declared that he will not release them because they are being audited. That this is a bogus excuse is clear because IRS rules do not prevent anyone from releasing their returns at any time and besides which he could release those for years before 2009 that are not being audited. Billionaire Warren Buffett has called his bluff and is trying to goad Trump to release them. Buffett says that although his own returns are also being audited, he has challenged Trump to a ‘tax off’, where they both release their tax returns and allow the public to ask questions about them.

So why not release them? Trump loves to boast about how wealthy he is and takes umbrage if anyone suggests that he is inflating his net worth and income. I think that if the returns showed that he was indeed as wealthy as he claims he is, he would have released the returns and bragged about it. His reluctance to do so suggests to me that he is embarrassed by what they say about him.

Seth Meyers has his own theory as to why Trump won’t release his returns.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    The amazing thing is that this might actually work. I’ll bet that, across the country, comedians are feeling a sense of euphoria. With a guy this thin-skinned, if they can find just the right barb, they might be able to get him to attack them on Twitter and make them famous while making himself look foolish. How often does a comedian get that amount of power? Because after all, if he can attack Gold Star parents and do the big pratfall in the process, then why not them too?

  2. blf says

    The history of releasing tax returns started because of Tricky Dicky: Nixon boasted of his astonishingly low taxes (c.6,000USD on an income of c.750,000USD); the IRS later decided he owed something like 400,000USD. His “I am not a crook” claim was in reference to his tax affairs.

    President Ford started(?) the release tradition, presumably to show he’d paid his fair share of tax; i.e., that he was not another scammer-at-the-top. President Carter and others also did so, perpetuating the practice.

  3. KG says

    It may be that Trumpelthinskin has other worries than being shown to be less wealthy than he claims: the degree of his dependence on financial dealings with associates of Vladimir Putin, for example.

  4. says

    It’s useful because it shows whether the candidate is a tax cheat (I’ll bet $10 with anyone here that Trump basically has paid no taxes since the 1970s, does anyone want to take the other side? You get my $10 if Trump has ever paid more than $1m in any year, ever)
    It also shows where the candidate is lining their pockets from. Of course you then get candidates like Clinton, who has a great big tax shelter she does all her business through, so she isn’t clearly and obviously taking big payments from her corporate owners.

    That’s why publishing tax returns is good: it lets you follow the money.

  5. Mano Singham says

    If you are right and Trump paid no taxes, would that hurt him with his supporters who worship lower taxes? Wouldn’t he brag that this shows that he knows how to work the system to his advantage and that thus he is the best person to close loopholes? It would be like how he talks about his bankruptcies.

    If the audit shows that he did something illegal, then wouldn’t he be prosecuted whether he released them or not?

  6. says

    If the audit shows that he did something illegal, then wouldn’t he be prosecuted whether he released them or not?

    Tax cheats are seldom caught or even audited. It’s quite possible that Trump’s tax returns being published would result in him having to write some gigantic checks.

  7. Matt G says

    As Leonna Helmsley famously said, “taxes are for little people.” Why do low income conservatives look the other way when the super wealthy pay at lower rates (and seemingly lower absolute amounts, on occasion) than they do?

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