WASHINGTON — Despite Donald Trump’s pledge that he would release his tax returns, he is fighting tooth and nail not to do so. Why?
Modern presidential candidates all have released their tax returns and their medical histories. (Trump also has not released his medical report; his personal physicians merely say he is in phenomenal health.)
All the candidates running for the White House in 2020, except for Trump, have released copies of their returns. Mostly, it’s pretty dull stuff.
Trump is arguing in court that his First Amendment rights would be violated if the state of New York releases his returns. He is fiercely fighting New York’s new law that says the state may demand access to government officials’ returns, redact and release them to the public.
California has just passed a law requiring presidential candidates to turn over their returns before the primary.
Trump argues he is being singled out because he is a Republican, although technically he could skip the California primary and run in the general election, where tax returns do not have to be released. He doesn’t have a shot at winning the state anyway.
But we return to the big question: Why is Trump so determined that Americans will not see his tax returns?
His most critical biographers offer these reasons from research and the two pages of one return they have seen:
1. He is not worth the $10 billion he says he is. In fact, the returns will show hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to foreign entities.
2. He has not given much money at all to charity.
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3. He has paid far less tax than millions of middle-class Americans.
4. He is a lousy businessman, who has had half a dozen bankruptcies and would be better off if he had invested the money his rich father left him.
Although special counsel Robert Mueller hired top-notch lawyers with experience in tricky financial dealings, his report did not contain Trump’s personal financial information. Members of Congress, who have IRS policy on their side in seeking Trump’s returns, are proceeding slowly, waiting for the courts to weigh in.
It will be interesting to see how the courts rule. Surprisingly, to many, it is not clear legally what rights states have in this area. States may require presidential candidates to pay filing fees and collect enough voter signatures to get on their ballots. But the Supreme Court forbid states to set congressional term limits, indicating that it is poised to restrict what states may do.
House Democrats insist they have a legal right to see Trump’s returns and vow that eventually they will get them. Senate Republicans are not sympathetic and so far are showing no curiosity to see what is in the voluminous documents.
Experts say that Trump’s returns, while they may embarrassingly contradict his public statements, are likely to be scrupulously legal. But they will show Americans how successfully the wealthiest use legal tax loopholes to avoid paying taxes that most must pay.
Trump’s die-hard supporters may not care if they ever see their hero’s tax returns or not.
But Americans should care. Their release will answer such questions as whether Trump is beholden to foreigners and whether he is financially benefiting from his office, which the founders of this country argued against.
Trump argues that he is all-powerful and can do whatever he wants. We have a right to determine for ourselves if he is compromised and is not acting in the best interests of the country for reasons that have to do with his finances.
One thing we know is true. Rich people are not necessarily smarter or more astute than anyone else, and the old argument that what this country needs is a businessperson in charge is just hooey.
This country needs a leader who is competent, moral, decent, honorable, believes in the rule of law and who puts the welfare of the country — and the rest of the world — above his/her own.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.