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Friday, December 15, 2017

In a column for the New York Daily News, I criticize the failure of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Bernie Sanders to release their full tax returns – a fundamental standard for presidential candidates, as David Cay Johnston recently explained here. Noting that there is no reason to suspect Sanders, in particular, of having anything to hide, I describe his non-disclosure in the Daily News as “bewildering.”

Yesterday, on NBC’s Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd braced Sanders on the issue quite directly:

TODD: Where are your tax returns? And wouldn’t that put you on a higher ground in calling for Hillary Clinton to say release these speech transcripts?

SANDERS: We are going to — we are going to release. I think we’ve talked about it before. Actually, you know, my wife works on our taxes. We’ve been busy. We are going to get out — all of our taxes out. Trust me, there is nothing that is going to surprise anybody.

TODD: Are you going to — but are you going to do seven, 10, 15 years’ worth of tax returns? So far you have done one [Form 1040].

SANDERS: We will do the best that we can. But, yes, we will get our tax returns out.

It’s good that he promised to disclose, although he didn’t say when. He made the same promise to Jake Tapper on CNN more than a week ago. And the Vermont senator didn’t explain why disclosure is so difficult for him and his wife. If there’s “nothing that is going to surprise anybody,” why is he stalling?

It is also puzzling to me that the media generally and the top newspaper editorial pages in particular remain so tolerant of stonewalling on taxes by all the candidates. (On February 26, by contrast, the Times published a scathing editorial demanding that Clinton release transcripts of her paid speeches to banks.) That wasn’t the attitude of the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards toward tax disclosure four years ago, when Mitt Romney tried that strategy.

The Post raked Romney on January 12, 2012, blasting his “determined lack of transparency” as “a striking and disturbing departure from the past practice of presidential candidates of both parties:

Asking candidates to make their tax returns public is undoubtedly an invasion of privacy. But it is one that comes with the territory of a presidential campaign. Such disclosure is not required by law but, as with the voluntary release of tax filings by the president and vice president, it has become routine, if at times grudging and belated.

A few days later, on January 17, 2012, the Times published “Taxes and Transparency,” an editorial that described Romney’s “insistence on secrecy” as “impossible to defend,” and put the issue plainly:

It is not too much to ask someone seeking the nation’s highest office to sacrifice some personal privacy to reassure voters that they have no hidden entanglements.

Two days later, when Romney attempted to get away with very limited disclosure, the Times thundered again:

Let’s be clear: despite Mr. Romney’s claim that ”people will want to see the most recent year,” his 2011 taxes would not be enough. Voters have a right to know how presidential aspirants made their money — not just in the year before the election.

To date, Sanders has posted only the first two pages of his 2014 tax return, nothing more. Cruz and Kasich have done the same, except for more than one year. Trump has disclosed zero, of course, while spouting his usual bombastic nonsense. So in 2016, the flouting of norms is even worse than 2012, except for one candidate – Hillary Clinton — who disclosed her complete returns dating back to 2000 and beyond last summer.  I would hate to think that’s why the Post and the Times are allowing all the other candidates escape scrutiny on this issue.

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