We recently learned that the House Ways and Means Committee voted to release six years’ worth of Donald Trump’s tax returns to the public. There wasn’t much of an explanation given as to why this would be required or what (if anything) it could possibly have to do with January 6. For that matter, some analysts are already asking if this is even legal. We also learned that in 2017 and 2018, the IRS never audited the President, a task that is required by law. At National Review, Jim Geraghty asks the question, who needs to see Trump’s tax returns? It’s a valid subject to consider because the IRS is supposed to keep the private information on everyone’s tax returns away from the public eye. If it can happen to Trump, it could happen to you.
It would be good if all presidential candidates released their most recent tax returns. The power of the presidency is unequaled, and if you want to be the man with all that power, you have certain obligations to the public. The American people have a right to know where a candidate makes their money, at least in the most recent years, as well as where they’ve invested their money and where their financial interests lie. The American people are also free to shrug and ignore this information; there’s no guarantee that all disclosed information will be deemed consequential by the public. But it is better for the people to have too much information about their leaders than too little.
I’m less certain that a president should be legally required to release their tax returns, which is a different question. Presidential candidates are already required to file an annual financial-disclosure report with the Federal Elections Commission within 30 days after becoming a candidate, or by May 15 of that calendar year, and file it each year they are a candidate. It is worth noting that the FEC report requires candidates to report the value of assets in broad ranges, so it’s tough to nail down a candidate’s precise wealth. This made getting a handle on Trump’s finances particularly difficult, as his 2015 report listed some assets as “more than $50 million” with no upper limit.
I agree that elected officials and candidates for public office need to be forthcoming about their finances. The law agrees with this proposal also and campaign finance laws require all sorts of disclosure along those lines. Trump is no exception, though Jim makes a good point in saying that the need for a public figure to disclose such information is weakened after they’ve left office. But Trump is already a declared candidate for the next election, so I suppose he needs to be back under the magnifying glass.
But as Geraghty points out, there is a difference between revealing your income, investments, and related data and publishing your entire tax return. Tax returns contain all manner of information that shouldn’t be relevant to the discussion. And even as a public figure, Trump is entitled to a certain level of privacy.
In order for a system of taxation to function properly, American citizens are expected to reveal all sorts of information to the IRS, often including personal details regarding spouses and children. In exchange for this data dump, the IRS is obligated to keep that information confidential. As Jim notes, that rule unfortunately is broken on a regular basis, but the principle remains the same.
Finally, what is the underlying purpose of dumping Trump’s tax returns out in the public square? Is the implication here supposed to be that he may have committed tax fraud? Even if that were true, the suspicion and the evidence should be turned over to the IRS so they can investigate the claim and take action if required. But that’s kind of silly too because the IRS already has his returns.
What this sounds like more than anything else is yet another case of the Democrats trying to find some way to give Trump a public black eye. They are trying everything in their power to create conditions where he can never return to the White House and create more nightmares for them. And based on this most recent announcement, they don’t appear to care if they have to break a few laws to make that happen.