Most of what has been written about what can be learned from the Trump tax returns has no basis in reality. While the President’s tax returns may be voluminous, his tax returns will yield far more questions than the occasional answer. For example, no tax return identifies lenders or whether the borrower has personal liability; tax returns only identify how much interest is paid. So, if President Trump borrowed funds from Russia or Bank of America, his tax returns would not disclose the lender. The tax returns will also not include the identity of the purchasers of his properties.
If the President of the United States has a sense of humor and a sense of how little we know about the finances of our Congress and how sensitive members of Congress are about their personal finances, he would propose that on a specific date, he, along with all elected members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, be required to release their tax returns or be faced with enormous fines. The chances of the Members of the House or Representatives or U.S. Senate voting to release ten years of their personal tax returns is zero. That is because while tax returns may not release details on specific transactions, they do tell us quite a bit about the individual’s personal decisions and with some specificity, tax returns identify the activities of both the elected official and the official’s spouse. We do not get to see the activities of elected officials’ spouses in such detail from other required reports.
Tax returns do tell us interesting tidbits about income trends, charity, spousal earnings etc.
While no one seemed terribly interested at the time, when President Obama’s tax returns were released, they showed that Michelle Obama was elected to the Boards of Directors of two companies shortly after he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Many Members of the Congress have become very wealthy over the past ten years and tax returns should provide clues as to the source of such income. How much does the spouse earn as salary? Are spouses sitting on Boards of Directors and receiving significant fees therefrom? Does Schedule C show a spouse’s consulting income? Has my Member of Congress profited on stock and bond trades through insider information; there might be some clues on Schedule D. This would scare many Members of Congress to death.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi appears to have become very wealthy over the past decade. Her tax returns might provide some interesting insight into her world and how it has changed over that period. Senator Feinstein’s husband is a very successful businessman, wouldn’t his annual activities prove interesting? Their annual required federal disclosures are no different than the President and very little detail can be gleaned from those reports.
Release of tax returns by candidates has regularly demonstrated a near absence of charitable contributions until the year before a presidential or vice-presidential run. Vice President Biden for years famously reported only a couple of hundred dollars of clothing as his sole charitable donation. Senator Warren recently showed tax returns of less than a few percent of charitable donations until last year despite annual income approaching $1 million.
Presidents’ signatures are necessary to pass legislation, so no bill requiring the President to release his tax returns is going to be passed and if a committee in Congress thinks they are going to obtain the President’s tax returns in the same decade requested, they have not paid much attention to the current ability to stop for months, if not years, almost anything the President wants to do by going to Court. But, if President Trump wants to demonstrate that Congress is far more interested in attacking him than in true transparency, he can challenge them to release their tax returns on the same day he releases his tax returns. Game over.