There was a dust-up yesterday about Donald Trump’s taxes. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow obtained two pages of Trump’s 2005 personal tax returns, which apparently had been leaked — by someone. The two pages show that, in 2005, Trump reported income of $150 million, paid $38 million in taxes, primarily through the alternative minimum tax, and benefited from a continuing write-off of losses that apparently date back to 1995.
The White House bemoaned the leak of the two pages of the tax returns, noting that an unauthorized leak of tax returns is a violation of federal law. At the same time, the White House noted that the two pages show that Trump paid a big chunk of money in federal taxes — while also pointing out that he has no obligation to pay one penny more in taxes than the law requires, a position that virtually every taxpayer heartily agrees with — and added that Trump also paid “tens of millions of dollars in other taxes, such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes, and this illegally published return proves just that.”
In addition, some Trump supporters used the two pages of the return to refute some of the things said by Trump opponents during the presidential campaign — namely, that Trump wasn’t releasing his taxes because he was a poor businessman, his business empire really wasn’t that successful, and his returns would show that he paid no taxes at all. As a result, some people are speculating that Trump himself engineered the leak and is using the 2005 return to play the media like a Stradivarius — by releasing limited documents that appear to refute opposition talking points, while at the same time objecting to leaks in violation of federal law.
It’s a messy story, and we’ll have to see whether we learn anything further about the source of the leak. For now, I hold to two basic points: (1) if Trump didn’t approve the leak and somebody in the federal government (specifically, the IRS) leaked the two pages of the 2005 return to advance their own personal political agenda, that is both illegal and a grossly inappropriate intrusion into Trump’s personal information and should be opposed by anyone, regardless of their political views, who has entrusted the government with their confidential information, via tax returns or otherwise; and (2) the returns show why presidential candidates should release their returns and why, if they object to such a release, voters should insist that they do so. The 2005 returns indicate that Trump paid millions of dollars pursuant to the alternative minimum tax — a tax that Trump has talked about abolishing. The public deserves to know whether political positions are motivated by a politician’s own self interest.
One reason many of us are troubled about the future of our country is that we don’t seem to have many capable, credible people in positions of authority. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a good example.
Lately Reid has been claiming that an unnamed person, or persons, have told him that Republican candidate Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years. Never mind that Romney has released returns for the last two years that show he paid substantial sums in taxes. Never mind that those returns reflect financial affairs that make it highly unlikely that Romney had zero tax liability in prior years — so unlikely that the Washington Post gave Reid four “Pinocchios” for his dubious claim. And never mind that Reid himself has not released his own tax returns, arguing that he provides sufficient financial information through congressional disclosure processes. Reid sees no double standard or unfairness in any of this, and says the burden is on Romney to disprove Reid’s allegation.
We should all be deeply troubled by Reid’s recklessness. Making public charges based solely on alleged anonymous information, refusing to disclose its source, and then putting the burden on the accused to disprove the unsubstantiated allegations sounds like McCarthyism or the tactics employed in the Soviet Union. No American should be treated so unfairly, and the fact that Mitt Romney is a presidential candidate for the opposing party doesn’t relieve Reid of his obligation to act with decency and propriety.
Harry Reid has been an ineffective leader of the Senate during a time when that body has been even more inert than normal. He is a Lilliputian figure in the history of this country, but his latest stunts are revealing disturbing things about his character. If he wants to pursue the issue of Mitt Romney’s taxes, he should disclose his sources by name, state precisely what they told him, and let everyone judge the credibility of that information. If he doesn’t want to do so, he should do us all a favor and shut up.
Mitt Romney’s failure to release his tax returns is a self-inflicted wound — and a missed opportunity.
It’s hard to believe that Romney didn’t understand that when you run for President, you check your privacy at the door. People have come to expect that candidates for office will release their tax returns. It’s consistent with the notions of transparency that prevail in our modern democratic culture, and allows journalists and interested parties to explore whether the candidate has been involved in sweetheart deals or shady actions or affiliations with questionable organizations.
Romney’s concern about his tax returns doesn’t seem to have anything to do with those kinds of issues. Instead, it seems like he is worried that his tax returns will show that he has been too successful, is too wealthy, and — because most of his money is made from investments — he doesn’t pay enough in taxes. If so, why is he embarrassed about that? If Romney wants to base his campaign on a full-throated defense of capitalism he should be loud and proud about his success, about the positive returns his investments have garnered, and the fact that he has paid precisely the amount of taxes that federal law requires. If people want to argue that he should have paid more, use the moment as an opportunity to teach about the benefits of low tax rates on investments.
Unless Romney’s tax returns show that he has been the main supporter of the Coven of the Satanic Overlord or a card-carrying member of the North Korean ruling junta, he should release the returns, pronto. Success in our economy shouldn’t be the source of shame, particularly for somebody who says he will use his campaign to stand up for free markets and the benefits of capitalism. As it now stands, his hems and haws implicitly communicate that wealth is somehow a source of guilt — which is not exactly the message he is trying to convey.