Jane Sanders, wife of Bernie, backtracked Tuesday on promises both she and the senator made to release the couple’s complete tax returns for the years 2006 through 2013, making a red-herring excuse.
The returns will be released, Jane suggested, when Hillary Clinton provides transcripts of her lucrative speeches to Wall Street firms. Clinton should absolutely release the transcripts and she should have done so long ago, but the issues are not even close to parallel.
Two wrongs do not a right make. And being a good-guy politician does not exempt one from criticism from those who favor many of his policies, including me.
In comments to Wolf Blitzer on CNN midday Tuesday, Jane Sanders revealed that she and her husband either lack an understanding of the historic reasons it is crucial that presidential candidates release many years of complete tax returns, that they lack a broad regard for integrity in government, or that they have something to hide.
The latter concern grows from Jane Sanders’ own conduct. First, she falsely asserted that the couple had repeatedly released tax returns, an assertion with no basis in fact as my April 13 National Memo column showed. Then there was her role as the president of a small, financially struggling nonprofit college, where she reportedly funneled $500,000 to her daughter and may have made false statements on bank loan papers.
But even if the Sanders tax returns are clean as a whistle, we should care about the Sanders tax returns. That the one nearly complete return they have made available, for 2014, is pretty standard for a couple in their age and income brackets is entirely beside the point.
We should care because we want every single person running for president to make public their complete tax returns – including schedules, statements and worksheets – for many years so that we do not ever again have an unindicted felon in the White House or an admitted tax cheat just a heartbeat away.
If a white hat politician like Sanders will not follow a tradition dating to the corrupt, tax-cheating presidency of Richard Nixon and his first vice president, Spiro Agnew, it gives aid and comfort to those who want to hide their black hat conduct.
Sanders runs as Mr. Transparency, railing against what goes on beyond closed doors when Wall Streeters and CEOs meet with politicians. Yet the junior Senator from Vermont seems willfully blind to how his own conduct undermines his important arguments, which have received far too little attention in the mainstream news.
If Sanders will not walk his talk he cannot credibly challenge those whom he says, with good reason, are rigging the economy for their benefit. That loss of credibility is terrible because Sanders is raising issues that need our attention, about policies that must change or the wealthiest Americans will grow ever richer by diminishing the income and assets of the vast majority, as I have been documenting for more than 20 years.
But much worse than damage to Sanders’ credibility is the aid and comfort he gives to politicians, including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich who have released nothing (Trump) or only summaries (Cruz and Kasich). Cruz and Kasich are both rich thanks to Wall Street. Heidi Cruz is a Goldman Sachs-er and Kasich made a fortune fast at Lehman Brothers, the overleveraged firm whose collapse set in motion the Great Recession.
The only one of the Final Five who has fully disclosed is Hillary Clinton. Her and Bill’s complete tax returns dating back to 1992 are posted at taxhistory.org, as are many other partial and complete presidential and candidate tax returns dating back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt administrations.
We really need to see the full tax returns of those three before any one of them is nominated by their party, but Sanders is making it easy for the Republicans to say no to disclosure.
Think ahead to the elections of 2020, 2024, and beyond, especially if the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision stands, enabling the wealthiest Americans to pour unlimited sums into elections. Some of that money will be used to persuade. But as presidents including John Adams and James Madison warned, the business aristocrats will also trick people when it is in their interests to do so – and with Citizens United they can do so with abandon.
Plenty of people who want to exercise power over us from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will want to keep their tax returns out of public record now and for as long as the United States of America endures. Many of them who have something to hide will cite Sanders as their model. Some because their tax returns will show they paid little or no income tax for many years (Romney in 2012, Trump in 2016). Others may have taken aggressive positions that raise questions about their character and conduct. Still others may have unreported income, which we might learn if they disclose fully for many years and disgruntled business associates, mistresses or others come forth with cancelled checks, financial statements and other proofs.
What does it tell us that Sanders and his wife, who knew full well a year ago that they would be asked for their complete tax returns at least since 2007, have played a game of “hide the documents”? What does it tell us that Jane Sanders made an unconditional promise on Mark Halperin’s Bloomberg television program and now dishonors her word? What does it tell us that a man who rightfully demands transparency from others will not hold himself to the same standards?
And if there is something the Sanders need to hide – and I sure hope not — we need to know that, too. Why? Because even if Sanders fails to get the Democratic Party nomination for president, we want integrity in the Senate just as much as in the Oval Office.