The tax issue returns to haunt Trump

The Clintons have just released their 2015 tax returns. The latest returns show that the Clintons are very wealthy people, earning over $10 million in 2015, mostly via the extremely lucrative racket of giving speeches to wealthy groups

The filing shows that the Clintons paid a federal tax rate of 34.2 percent in 2015. The bulk of their income — more than $6 million — came from speaking fees for appearances made largely before Hillary Clinton launched her campaign in April 2015. They gave more than $1,042,000 to charity, with $1 million going to the Clinton family foundation. That is the financial vehicle the family uses to give money to museums, schools, churches and other charitable causes. It is not the same organization as the better-known Clinton Foundation.

The Clintons’ income puts them well within the ranks of the top 0.1 percent of Americans, though they pay a higher tax rate than many of their elite peers, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, based on 2013 data.

In addition to the $6 million for speeches, “other significant sources of income included $3 million in book proceeds for Hillary, and $1.6 million for Bill’s consulting with GEMS Education, an international education company, and Laureate Education, Inc., a for-profit education chain.” The Clintons have released their tax returns dating back to 1977.

Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine has also released his 2015 returns.

In 2015, Kaine and his wife, Anne Holton, reported $313,441 in total income, the vast majority of that coming from their respective salaries: Kaine as a senator and Holton as Virginia’s secretary of education.

During the past 10 years, they gave a minimum of $11,209 to charity, with the amount exceeding $20,000 in four of those years, according to the returns.

These releases have put pressure on Donald Trump once again to release his returns and Kaine has goaded him to do so.

Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, used a speech Saturday in New Hampshire to lambaste Donald Trump for his continued refusal to release his tax returns, suggesting the Republican presidential nominee was trying to hide a “stingy” history of charitable giving and questioning his commitment to the military.

“He’s bragged about using every trick and artifice he can to pay no taxes,” Kaine, a U.S. senator from Virginia, said of Trump. “We pay taxes to support the military. … If you haven’t been supporting the military during your entire life, don’t tell me you’ll suddenly start if you get to be commander in chief. I don’t believe that for a minute.”

Trump refuses to return his own returns saying that they are under audit, a transparent excuse, since IRS rules allow him to do so and besides which he could release earlier returns that are not being audited. Speculation has raged over why he is so reluctant, with suggestions that it will show financial dealings with Russia or that he has paid little or no tax or that he has contributed little to charity, all of which critics charge may be damaging to him.

I don’t think those are the reasons because he can explain them away. The fact that he may have paid little or no tax could bolster his argument that he is a clever person who knows exactly how the system works and how people exploit loopholes and thus is best equipped to close them. It may also actually appeal to his supporters who think that paying taxes is evil. As for low charitable contributions, he can say that he has done much more for the poor by creating jobs. The Russia connection is tricky but he can say, as he has said in the past, that as a businessman, he deals with everybody he needs to, in addition to giving out favors and contributions and expecting things in return, and that Russia is just another business partner.

But there is another possible reason for his reluctance because it would be harder to explain away. Trump constantly brags about how rich he is. Indeed that seems to be his main argument, in that it proves he is a ‘winner’ and thus can lead American to further ‘wins’. But measures of wealth consist of both assets and income. The 1040 tax form and associated schedules give information about income but not about assets though it may be possible to infer a rough idea of the size of assets from the income obtained through things like capital gains.

It is possible that his income is not that high and may even be lower than that of the Clintons. In a normal race, candidates try to not emphasize their wealth and instead decry ostentation and act humbly so that ordinary people think they understand their problems. Remember Richard Nixon’s famous Checkers speech where he spoke about his wife Pat wearing a humble cloth coat instead of a fur one?

It used to be that politicians emphasized their limited means. But Trump has gone the opposite route of touting his wealth. Maybe he is embarrassed that the taxes will reveal that his income is quite low, at least by the standards of the circles he moves in. According to him, now a politician who is of modest wealth is not someone who has been scrupulously ethical and honest and not sought to use their office to amass wealth, but someone who is a failure.

We live in strange times.


  1. says

    Bill also books work through his Delaware shell corp. So they’re probably cheating too, but I bet Trump’s paid $0 for decades.

    Old stuff from disclosures to the NJ Gaming Commission indicates he paid $0 for a couple years back in the 80s. I bet that’s a hard habit to break.

  2. says

    “the extremely lucrative racket of giving speeches to wealthy groups”

    Why should that be regarded as ‘racket’? You and I probably would never regard her price/hour ratio as acceptable, but the “wealthy groups” know beforehand what they get, and what the price is.

  3. Mano Singham says


    The reason I say it is a racket is that when politicians get paid of the order of $300,000-$500,000 for a single speech, it is unlikely that they are saying anything that valuable. What could Hillary Clinton tell Goldman Sachs that was useful to them in their business? The reason they are invited and get paid so much is to make them feel indebted and gain access to them. Donald Trump actually laid out how it all works, one of the few benefits of his campaign.

    They will be able to ask her to put them in touch with whoever they want something from in government and her conveying that message carries weight. If and when Clinton is president, she will answer their call, but not yours or mine.

  4. lorn says

    Trump is all about selling the idea of how good things will be/feel/seem after you buy what he is selling. In sales it is called ‘selling the sizzle’ as opposed to selling the steak. Trump is all sizzle and no steak. All glitz and presentation and anticipation of how good it is going to be.

    Everyone who buys in is disappointed. But human nature won’t allow them to complain. Most people don’t want to advertise that they got suckered. For one thing, admitting that what you just bought is crap would interfere with your ability minimize the loss by selling it to the next sucker. How is that Trump Tower apartment … great, fabulous. You want to buy it?

    That is the trick. The easiest way to emerge relatively undamaged in Trump’s world is to act like Trump. Speak in superlatives about how great it feels to own it and hope nobody checks the details or, worse, tries to live there. Owning a Trump product gives you bragging rights, right up until proposition goes bankrupt.

    The trick is to get in early, buy low, sell at the point of maximum hype and buzz, and get rid of it before the bills come due. Classic “pump and dump” stuff.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    when politicians get paid of the order of $300,000-$500,000 for a single speech, it is unlikely that they are saying anything that valuable

    You’re guilty here of projecting your poverty-stricken outlook onto rich people. You, on peasant wages/pension, can’t imagine anything a person could say that would make listening to them for an hour worth $500,000. But this is only because $500,000 is, to you (and me), a lot of money. But this is entirely subjective. To Goldman Sachs, it’s pocket change. Consider: Johnny Galecki gets paid twice that amount to appear in ONE EPISODE of “The Big Bang Theory”. Is he saying anything that valuable? I heard a podcast recently where a UK comedian you’ve probably never heard of mentioned that he’d turned down an offer to do an advertisement for dandruff shampoo. For a single day’s work for a 30 second TV ad he was offered £500,000, in today’s post-Brexit money about $644,000. And he decided he didn’t need it. These people are living in a different world.

  6. Mano Singham says


    It is not the amount that is at issue but what is expected in return. The examples you give of guest stars on TV shows and TV commercials are cases where the payoff is clear, in the hopes of increased audience share or increased sales of a product.

    What does the payoff come for Goldman Sachs from a speech by Clinton? Business insights that would increase their profits by that amount? Suggestions for a new form of credit derivatives? That seems unlikely. They are paying for access to her, which was my point of the corruptness of the system.

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