Tax Transparency: After Expansive Vow, Sanders Releases Only 2014 Return
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders released nearly all of his and wife Jane Sanders’ 2014 tax return Friday night, but that disclosure still remains far from his wife’s promise to release complete returns for the last eight years while raising more questions about the candidate’s judgment.
As expected there was nothing startling in the schedules, raising the question of why Sanders has held back his returns, issued false statements about disclosure, and, in the case of Mrs. Sanders, made a flatly untrue claim on national television, as my reporting quickly showed.
Sanders runs as a reformer, as Mr. Transparency, and with good cause rails about the damage done by Wall Street. Yet he does not walk his own talk. His failure to be forthright and release full returns back to 2007 — when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate from Vermont — erodes the likelihood that other Presidential candidates this cycle and in the future will release their own full returns.
He is giving aid and comfort to politicians who want to hide their tax returns because what is in them really does matter. He is undermining the future of our country, but seems oblivious. Why does he not recognize that our republic is undermined when politicians — be they reformers, exploiters of weak financial integrity laws or crooks — reveal little or no tax information?
You can be sure that when pressed future politicians with conduct they need to hide will cite Sanders as the standard for making less than complete disclosure. As a would-be reformer, he ought to understand the principle and honor it.
Since Sanders likely has nothing to hide, why not make full disclosure? His mishandling of what should be the non-issue of his tax returns opens a window into the reasons why even politicians broadly aligned with his views, such as the members of the House Progressive Caucus, have been reluctant to endorse him in the primary.
Bizarrely, Sanders has placed himself under a tent that includes three of the remaining five Presidential candidates:
- Donald Trump, who likely pays no income taxes and gives nothing to charity, will not release any tax information.
- Ted Cruz, whose wife is a Goldman Sachs investment banker, has put out only four years of summary Form 1040s.
- John Kasich, who between his years in Congress and becoming governor of Ohio, got rich at Lehman Brothers before it collapsed, has issued seven years of Form 1040s.
The fifth candidate still standing, Hillary Clinton, has released complete tax returns to 1992. You can see many tax returns, and for some only the 1040s, at taxhistory.org, a website run by nonprofit Tax Analysts, for which I am also a columnist.
Sanders’ behavior over the past nine months is even more perplexing because he must have known he would be expected to release his tax returns — a political norm dating to the dark days of the Nixon administration. President Richard Nixon, an unindicted tax criminal (his tax guy went to prison) resigned 42 years ago. Vice President Agnew confessed to evasion immediately after resigning.
We need far more disclosure about politicians, their connections, and their money, not less.
Thousands of comments on the internet assert that Sanders should not be held to account because he is alone in going after the establishment and especially Wall Street. But candidates must be held to uniform standards. Running as a reformer does not win anybody a pass. (Anyone who suspects that I dislike Sanders’ policies should read my New York Daily News essay, which explained that popular support for his views is so broad that large majorities of Republicans support his policies, even if they do not realize it.)
Unfortunately, Sanders’ responses to questions asked by other journalists after I explained the issues in my April 1 column have been less than forthright. Most troubling was what Jane Sanders told Mark Halperin on Bloomberg TV, when she claimed “every election we have released them…we did when he ran for election, yeah.” My reporting showed that was not true, but the Sanders campaign has not corrected her false statement.
As for the return that Sanders finally released on Friday evening, there’s nothing there.
The 2014 Sanders return shows that the senator and his wife gave $8,350 to charity, or 4 percent of their $205,271 income. That percentage is double the average in their income class. They did not disclose any further information about the charitable groups to which they donated.
Their Schedule C shows $4,900 in “business income” to Jane Sanders as an appointed commissioner of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact Commission, a bi-state regulatory body created more than a decade ago that oversees shipments of radioactive waste from Vermont to the Lone Star state. It also shows that Sanders deducted $4,473 for employee meal expenses as a senator, half the cost of those meals.
The only curious item a $204 deduction for tax preparation, after Jane Sanders said that she uses the Turbo Tax program to prepare their returns. The most expensive version of TurboTax sold currently — a higher grade product than needed to prepare the couple’s returns — costs $109.99 That price includes both an online download and a compact disc. And that is the price charged by Intuit, the manufacturer, with retailers offering discounts pricing the top product at under $100.
Of course this is insignificant. Clearly, Bernie and Jane Sanders have nothing at all to hide. So why not release their complete 2007 to 2013 tax documents?
Tax returns for 2015 are not due until Monday night, April 18.