Donald Trump: Release Your Tax Returns
Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump is the first candidate in forty years to refuse to release his tax returns for public scrutiny. He has altered his position several times, but his most recent justification is that no one actually wants to see them: "I haven't had much pressure. I'll be honest, most people don't care about it. The only ones that care are certain people in the media. I've had very, very little pressure." (Fox News, "On the Record with Greta Van Susteran," July 28, 2016.)
Speaking as a registered voter who tries my best to keep informed: I care very much. I doubt I am the only one: the American people stand to learn much of significance from Trump's tax returns.
- Trump has touted his business acumen and financial success as one of the primary reasons to vote for him. His tax returns would show his annual income, which would either support or undermine his claims.
- Trump's tax returns would also show the source of his income. The Trump campaign has, for example, criticized Hillary Clinton for the money she received from giving speeches, especially money received from Wall Street. The sources of Trump's income are entitled to the same scrutiny.
- There has been a great deal of emotion this election cycle about the perception that some of the richest Americans are not paying their "fair share" towards the support of the United States. Trump's tax returns would show his income tax rate as a percentage of his income, which voters could then compare to, for example, the IRS's annual release of the average tax rate of the 400 taxpayers with the highest gross income.
- The tax returns would also show how much Trump actually paid in taxes. The only time Trump made any of his tax returns public, back in 1981, he claimed that his income for those two years was negative $3.8 million, so he paid nothing in taxes. Trump wants Americans to elect him to the office that essentially runs the IRS and the U.S. Justice Department, so his approach to paying his own taxes over the years would say much about his likely conduct as president.
- Trump's tax returns would show how much he invested out of the country, because all overseas assets must be reported by law.
- Trump has announced that he donated $102 million to charities over the past five years, a figure some have disputed. His tax returns would either document or disprove that claim.
- None of this information is available from any other reliable source. Unlike the financial disclosure form that Trump filed when becoming a candidate, tax returns are subject to audit and must be accurate under penalty of law.
- Finally, there has been a great deal of speculation about what supposed "bombshells" Trump's tax returns might or might not contain. Everyone, on both sides of the political aisle, would benefit if all of this speculation were laid to rest, and the election could focus more on policy issues.
If the only thing now standing in Trump's way is his belief that, as he says, "most people don't care about it," then it behooves the American people to demonstrate that this belief is mistaken. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are around 142 million registered voters in the United States (as of the November 2014 national election). Let's find out how many of them do, in fact, care about Trump's tax returns, and whether that can give Trump the "pressure" he says he needs to agree to release them.
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