WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2016 — It has been standard practice over the last 40 years for presidential candidates to release at least a summary of their tax records. From those records, voters are able to glean information about a candidate’s charitable giving, foreign tax shelters, gross income and effective tax rate.
For some candidates, their tax records cast doubt on things they say in their speeches. Mitt Romney’s insistence that corporations and the top income earners need lower tax rates fell flat when the American people saw that he was paying an effective 14 percent tax rate. Romney had to know the effect this would have, but he released the information anyway. Not releasing it, he reasoned, would have been even more harmful.
For most candidates, releasing their tax records is a minor thing. The media and their opponents do their best to make headlines from the information, but usually there is nothing interesting to the general public.
Hillary Clinton has released her most recent tax records. There is nothing startling in them. Everyone knew that her speeches pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars. She and her husband made $10 million last year, paid just over $3 million in income tax, and gave almost a million to charity, albeit their own charity.
But everyone knows that charity begins at home. There were no bombshells here.
Donald Trump’s taxes might be another issue. He has unequivocally said that he will not release his tax records before the election. He hit Romney hard for not releasing his fast enough in 2012, but his views on the topic have changed. Most Americans probably wouldn’t care about a candidate’s tax records, but Trump’s refusal to release his has raised red flags.
What is he hiding? He is supposedly extremely wealthy and brags on the fact constantly. His wealth validates his business acumen and seems important to his sense of self-worth. If he is less wealthy than he claims, his main selling point is undermined.
No law requires that Trump reveal those records. Tradition has put him under he spotlight. For all his many faults, Trump is no idiot when it comes to presenting a public image. The name “Trump” is a brand, synonymous with “luxury” and “wealth.” His refusal to release his tax records has sparked a dangerous whispering campaign against him, and he knows it. His refusal to squelch it suggests that he knows the alternative is worse.
Trump claims that he’s willing to release his tax records, but he cannot: He is under IRS audit. The IRS has said that nothing about an audit prohibits him from releasing those records. Trump, no fool, knows how weak his excuse is. Running with it is further evidence that his records are a bigger threat.
In the end, none of this matters much for Trump. The media and the Clinton campaign will beat him over the head with this for weeks, but he will stonewall as he has all along. Without the records, all anyone can do is speculate: Trump is no billionaire; Trump pays little in taxes; Trump gives nothing to charity; Trump has received money from Russian banks.
Who knows what’s in those records? Trump certainly doesn’t want you to. His smoke and mirrors act will keep up the appearance of a successful, wealthy businessman and will carry him on to November.