Kevin Kruse wrote about the history of presidents releasing their taxes:
On November 17, 1973, the president sought to reestablish his credibility in the fantasy-friendly confines of Disney World. In a televised Q&A session with 400 newspaper editors, he hoped to convince the nation of his honesty and integrity. He only made things worse.
Nixon grew increasingly angry and agitated at the podium when the Orlando press conference turned to questions about his finances. Reporters had been hounding him for weeks, asking how he could afford two separate private homes on his relatively meager presidential salary and whether he’d benefitted personally from administration dealings. There had even been rumors that the President of the United States was being bankrolled in some way by the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes.
To prove that he wasn’t a crook – or at least not the particular kind of crook detailed in those allegations – Nixon reluctantly released his tax returns a week later.
The paperwork dispelled most of the larger suspicions about him, but also showed that Nixon had taken advantage of every possible deduction he could have used. (In 1970, for instance, he and his wife paid only $792.81 in taxes on more than $200,000 in income.) More damning, the president had claimed a deduction he shouldn’t have used, backdating the donation of his vice presidential papers. As a result, Nixon owed a considerable sum in back taxes. He paid up and the press moved on to the other “White House horrors.” Nine months later, Nixon was gone.
In the wake of Watergate, the United States embraced a wide array of reforms to make sure that nothing like that would rock the nation again. As part of this trend, it became standard practice for presidential candidates to release details of their tax returns. For a while, anyway.
(click here to continue reading All the Presidents’ Taxes.)
I believe that every politician seeking national office1 should be required to release multiple years of full tax returns. If that means that people like Howard Schultz, Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump decide not to be politicians because they don’t want people to know how much the wealthy can avoid paying taxes, well, so be it. We as a country will recover from the loss.
Mitt Romney released a partial year return for 2010 and 2011, but in my estimation, that wasn’t detailed enough. Three years, full returns, no exceptions. If you are a thin-skinned plutocrat with political ambitions, take a few years off of your normal tax avoidance schemes and have a cleaner return that you can release.Footnotes:
- or even local office [↩]