Photo: Pixabay/Kai Stachowiak

Is It Really That Important for Donald Trump to Release His Tax Returns?

Donald Trump, President of the United States, clearly has no intention of releasing his tax returns. He continually dodged the issue or made excuses while he was on the campaign trail, and he still hasn’t made any efforts to reveal them since he was sworn into office.

Trump has stated that “The only ones that care about my tax returns are the reporters.”

However, his refusal to release his tax returns has spurred a very public response in the form of the Tax March, which is organizing rallies in Washington D.C. and most U.S. states—as well as around the world—to demand a release of his personal income tax records.

Trump’s refusal to voluntarily release his tax returns diverges from decades of tradition in which U.S. presidential candidates have released their tax returns to the public.

Why Do U.S. Presidents Release Tax Returns to the Public?

Individual income tax returns are private—even for U.S. presidents—and the IRS is barred from releasing taxpayer information to the general public.

However, the tradition of U.S. presidential candidates releasing their tax returns to the public started after Richard Nixon. Nixon, who famously resigned from office in 1974 during the Watergate scandal, also battled a less publicized tax scandal around the same time.

In 1973, Nixon’s tax practices came under scrutiny due to dubious charitable donations and large write-offs that had occurred in previous years. After increasing pressure from the media and public to release his tax returns, Nixon eventually obliged and requested that the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation (JCIRT) examine his returns.

In November of 1973, Nixon made a speech where he infamously stated, “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.”

By April 1974, after a four-month-long investigation, the JCIRT found that Nixon owed the government $476,431, or roughly $2.3 million in today’s dollars, due to improper income tax practices. By August of 1974, Nixon resigned amidst the Watergate scandal and his personal income tax scandal.

The Nixon scandals resulted in many people losing faith in the American government, including the IRS, and the system in general. If a president would mislead the American public for his own financial and political gain, and the IRS could overlook such egregious tax misconduct, was the government really looking out for the people?

After the Nixon tax scandal, Jimmy Carter and every major-party presidential candidate since have voluntarily released their income tax returns to the American public in an effort to build trust and maintain transparency within the federal government.

The Issues Surrounding Donald Trump Not Releasing His Returns

Personal income tax returns provide a fair amount of insight into a candidate’s finances and business dealings, such as annual income, taxes paid and tax rate, deductions and credits claimed, including charitable donations, investments, debt and money owed, etc.

This accessibility is valuable for a variety of reasons, from getting a better understanding of a candidate’s character and what he or she represents, to keeping them accountable on questionable tax practices and conflicts of interest.

Recently, due to Donald Trump’s resistance to releasing his tax returns, California senators have proposed SB 149, the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, which would require any future presidential or vice-presidential candidate to make their tax returns public to appear on the California ballot. This proposed legislation closely mimics a proposal in New York as the idea of requiring candidates to provide additional financial disclosures to keep citizens informed is gaining traction.

Candidates’ tax returns are about transparency, trust and accountability, and they can significantly influence campaigns.

2012 Presidential Race Income Tax Disclosure Example

In the 2012 Presidential Race, Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican nominee, was pressured into releasing his income tax returns. He eventually released two years of returns. In review, the American public was able to gain some important insights:

Mitt Romney’s Low Tax Rate on $22 Million Income

When presidential candidate Mitt Romney released his 2010 income tax returns in 2012, he received severe scrutiny when it was uncovered that he paid an effective income tax rate of 13.9% on an income of around $22 million.

Further analysis showed his use of complex tax avoidance strategies, such as long-term capital gains, qualified dividends, capital loss carryforward and a carried interest provision, to secure such a low tax rate.

Mitt Romney’s Offshore Accounts

Mitt Romney’s net worth is estimated to be around $250 million. In releasing his tax returns, people were able to see his financial holdings, which included many offshore accounts that could be—and very likely were—used to shield his assets from taxation.

Newt Gingrich, a fellow Republican and primary competitor, said, “I don’t know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account.” Romney did have a Swiss bank account along with other financial assets in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

The Effect of Mitt Romney’s Tax Return Release

The 2012 election took place in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street movement that fought against the financial system, income inequality and elitism in America after we endured the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

In many ways, Mitt Romney embodied everything that the 99% were fighting against, and his income tax returns put a spotlight on his immense wealth and elitist practices that allowed him to pay less in taxes than the average middle-class American. This, in part, played a role in his campaign struggles and the eventual loss to Barack Obama for the presidency.

Why Americans Should Care About Donald Trump Releasing His Tax Returns

You could easily argue that enough Americans did not care about Donald Trump’s tax returns and his financial dealings. His refusal to release them while he was running for president should have had an influence on voters if it mattered enough, especially since he is the first major candidate to refuse in the last 40 years.

Then again, you could also easily argue that Trump’s campaign had little to do with earning America’s trust and acting like a bona fide political candidate running for the most powerful position in the world. In all reality, Trump’s campaign and eventual presidential victory were based on a big middle finger to the status quo and an almost irrational exuberance from people who believed in his often quixotic claims of how to “Make America Great Again.”

So why should America care about Donald Trump—now President of the United States—releasing his tax returns to the public?

The Foundation of America Is Built on Informed Citizens

Informed citizens are the backbone of American society, and it is a fundamental component of our liberty and freedom. We should always question our politicians and the government to assure that they are acting in the people’s interests.

Thomas Jefferson stated, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

As an American, it’s not about forcing Donald Trump to release his tax returns in an attempt to “get him” for trying to cover something up. It’s about making the President of the United States, a public servant of the people, accountable to the people. It is important for the public to know the truth about President Trump’s financial dealings and how it may impact his future decisions, from tax reform legislation to conflicts of interest.

Business Dealings and Conflicts of Interest

Donald Trump has built an international business and brand around his name. However, as president, Trump has not distanced himself from his businesses, and there are many questions that remain regarding his current position and the influence on affairs that relate to his business.

Even if he does remove himself from the day-to-day operations, if he has an ownership stake in his business, there are substantial ethical and legal concerns due to potential conflicts of interest. Currently, he plans to let his family run his business and has no intention of giving up his ownership stake.

In the past, presidents have made efforts to distance themselves from their businesses—but Donald Trump is not a typical president. Considering his vast business empire and inclination to promote not only himself but his family’s businesses at every opportunity, there are a lot of potential conflicts of interest that people should be aware of.

In light of the situation, the American public should be able to have access to his income tax returns to delve deeper into his financial holdings and business interests. As Americans, we deserve to have a full picture of his financial situation so we can monitor our president’s actions to assure that he is not simply using his position for his own gain. Trump’s income tax returns, in conjunction with the required financial disclosure form, will help provide a much more transparent picture to the American public.

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Experienced in digital marketing, branding, content development and search engine optimization (SEO). I have a B.A. from UC Davis in Economics (French minor), I am a member of the Cal Aggie Alumni Association and I am a Beta Epsilon alumni. I have a broad range of interests that include playing jazz piano, reading, writing, learning about history, eating good food (my grandma's gnocchi is a favorite) and traveling.

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Is It Really That Important for Donald Trump to Release His Tax Returns?

Donald Trump, President of the United States, clearly has no intention of releasing his tax returns. He continually dodged the issue or made excuses while he was on the campaign trail, and he still hasn’t made any efforts to reveal them since he was sworn into office.

Trump has stated that “The only ones that care about my tax returns are the reporters.”

However, his refusal to release his tax returns has spurred a very public response in the form of the Tax March, which is organizing rallies in Washington D.C. and most U.S. states—as well as around the world—to demand a release of his personal income tax records.

Trump’s refusal to voluntarily release his tax returns diverges from decades of tradition in which U.S. presidential candidates have released their tax returns to the public.

Why Do U.S. Presidents Release Tax Returns to the Public?

Individual income tax returns are private—even for U.S. presidents—and the IRS is barred from releasing taxpayer information to the general public.

However, the tradition of U.S. presidential candidates releasing their tax returns to the public started after Richard Nixon. Nixon, who famously resigned from office in 1974 during the Watergate scandal, also battled a less publicized tax scandal around the same time.

In 1973, Nixon’s tax practices came under scrutiny due to dubious charitable donations and large write-offs that had occurred in previous years. After increasing pressure from the media and public to release his tax returns, Nixon eventually obliged and requested that the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation (JCIRT) examine his returns.

In November of 1973, Nixon made a speech where he infamously stated, “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.”

By April 1974, after a four-month-long investigation, the JCIRT found that Nixon owed the government $476,431, or roughly $2.3 million in today’s dollars, due to improper income tax practices. By August of 1974, Nixon resigned amidst the Watergate scandal and his personal income tax scandal.

The Nixon scandals resulted in many people losing faith in the American government, including the IRS, and the system in general. If a president would mislead the American public for his own financial and political gain, and the IRS could overlook such egregious tax misconduct, was the government really looking out for the people?

After the Nixon tax scandal, Jimmy Carter and every major-party presidential candidate since have voluntarily released their income tax returns to the American public in an effort to build trust and maintain transparency within the federal government.

The Issues Surrounding Donald Trump Not Releasing His Returns

Personal income tax returns provide a fair amount of insight into a candidate’s finances and business dealings, such as annual income, taxes paid and tax rate, deductions and credits claimed, including charitable donations, investments, debt and money owed, etc.

This accessibility is valuable for a variety of reasons, from getting a better understanding of a candidate’s character and what he or she represents, to keeping them accountable on questionable tax practices and conflicts of interest.

Recently, due to Donald Trump’s resistance to releasing his tax returns, California senators have proposed SB 149, the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, which would require any future presidential or vice-presidential candidate to make their tax returns public to appear on the California ballot. This proposed legislation closely mimics a proposal in New York as the idea of requiring candidates to provide additional financial disclosures to keep citizens informed is gaining traction.

Candidates’ tax returns are about transparency, trust and accountability, and they can significantly influence campaigns.

2012 Presidential Race Income Tax Disclosure Example

In the 2012 Presidential Race, Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican nominee, was pressured into releasing his income tax returns. He eventually released two years of returns. In review, the American public was able to gain some important insights:

Mitt Romney’s Low Tax Rate on $22 Million Income

When presidential candidate Mitt Romney released his 2010 income tax returns in 2012, he received severe scrutiny when it was uncovered that he paid an effective income tax rate of 13.9% on an income of around $22 million.

Further analysis showed his use of complex tax avoidance strategies, such as long-term capital gains, qualified dividends, capital loss carryforward and a carried interest provision, to secure such a low tax rate.

Mitt Romney’s Offshore Accounts

Mitt Romney’s net worth is estimated to be around $250 million. In releasing his tax returns, people were able to see his financial holdings, which included many offshore accounts that could be—and very likely were—used to shield his assets from taxation.

Newt Gingrich, a fellow Republican and primary competitor, said, “I don’t know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account.” Romney did have a Swiss bank account along with other financial assets in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

The Effect of Mitt Romney’s Tax Return Release

The 2012 election took place in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street movement that fought against the financial system, income inequality and elitism in America after we endured the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

In many ways, Mitt Romney embodied everything that the 99% were fighting against, and his income tax returns put a spotlight on his immense wealth and elitist practices that allowed him to pay less in taxes than the average middle-class American. This, in part, played a role in his campaign struggles and the eventual loss to Barack Obama for the presidency.

Why Americans Should Care About Donald Trump Releasing His Tax Returns

You could easily argue that enough Americans did not care about Donald Trump’s tax returns and his financial dealings. His refusal to release them while he was running for president should have had an influence on voters if it mattered enough, especially since he is the first major candidate to refuse in the last 40 years.

Then again, you could also easily argue that Trump’s campaign had little to do with earning America’s trust and acting like a bona fide political candidate running for the most powerful position in the world. In all reality, Trump’s campaign and eventual presidential victory were based on a big middle finger to the status quo and an almost irrational exuberance from people who believed in his often quixotic claims of how to “Make America Great Again.”

So why should America care about Donald Trump—now President of the United States—releasing his tax returns to the public?

The Foundation of America Is Built on Informed Citizens

Informed citizens are the backbone of American society, and it is a fundamental component of our liberty and freedom. We should always question our politicians and the government to assure that they are acting in the people’s interests.

Thomas Jefferson stated, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

As an American, it’s not about forcing Donald Trump to release his tax returns in an attempt to “get him” for trying to cover something up. It’s about making the President of the United States, a public servant of the people, accountable to the people. It is important for the public to know the truth about President Trump’s financial dealings and how it may impact his future decisions, from tax reform legislation to conflicts of interest.

Business Dealings and Conflicts of Interest

Donald Trump has built an international business and brand around his name. However, as president, Trump has not distanced himself from his businesses, and there are many questions that remain regarding his current position and the influence on affairs that relate to his business.

Even if he does remove himself from the day-to-day operations, if he has an ownership stake in his business, there are substantial ethical and legal concerns due to potential conflicts of interest. Currently, he plans to let his family run his business and has no intention of giving up his ownership stake.

In the past, presidents have made efforts to distance themselves from their businesses—but Donald Trump is not a typical president. Considering his vast business empire and inclination to promote not only himself but his family’s businesses at every opportunity, there are a lot of potential conflicts of interest that people should be aware of.

In light of the situation, the American public should be able to have access to his income tax returns to delve deeper into his financial holdings and business interests. As Americans, we deserve to have a full picture of his financial situation so we can monitor our president’s actions to assure that he is not simply using his position for his own gain. Trump’s income tax returns, in conjunction with the required financial disclosure form, will help provide a much more transparent picture to the American public.

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