WASHINGTON, May 16, 2016 — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are still keeping secrets from the voters. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, raising concerns that he may be hiding something. Clinton refuses to release transcripts of her highly paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms.
Candidates may resent the ever-growing demands for transparency, but it comes with the job. Both candidates should release these documents and put the issue and the questions it raises to rest.
Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns makes it seem that he’s hiding something. In fact, even if his returns are completely above-board, a man of his wealth will always have something he might legitimately wish to hide, either from business rivals or from political enemies fishing for ammunition.
But releasing those tax returns is now almost obligatory. Former candidates on both sides have released their tax returns in past elections. Trump’s returns may show that his wealth is less than he claims, or that he has used legal loopholes to shelter his wealth from taxes. On Friday he told ABC’s Good Morning America that his tax rates are “none of your business.” And they aren’t, unless he’s running for the presidency.
No law forces candidates to release tax returns, but all the major candidates do. Tradition and public expectation often carry even greater weight than the law. Hillary Clinton has put 15 years of her returns online. Trump’s reasons for refusing are unconvincing. Earlier this year, he said he couldn’t do it because he was being audited by the IRS.
For Clinton, full disclosure includes letting the public know what she said to the bankers. This is particularly important because she has repeatedly promised to “rein in Wall Street” if she is elected, and because she has profited so greatly from her words of—wisdom? encouragement? condemnation?—to the country’s financial titans.
From the time she left the State Department in 2013 to her declaration of candidacy last year, Clinton raked in $21.7 million for 92 speeches. Goldman Sachs paid her $225,000 for each of three speeches. Goldman, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America ended up settling with the federal government for $5.1 billion, $13 billion and $16.6 billion, respectively, for their roles in the financial crisis.
What was in those speeches? Her speaking fees may not put her in the pockets of the banks, but they raise questions about her closeness to them. Fragments of her remarks have been leaked by attendees. Some have told The Wall Street Journal that she didn’t say much about the financial crisis, but when she did, her tone was amicable, even sympathetic toward the banking industry.
That might be interesting to millions of people who lost homes or jobs in the Great Recession. At a campaign stop last week in Blackwood, N.J., Clinton said the release of tax returns is “kind of expected” of presidential nominees. But the expectations have grown; so is coming clean about closed-door comments to bankers who helped bring the U.S. economy to its knees.
Should Trump and Clinton release the documents in question, Americans will have a clearer image of the candidates, and their opponents will have more ammunition to use against them. That’s a sad reality of politics, but that’s what we expect of the man who would “Make America Great Again,” and the woman who, even more than Bernie Sanders, would stand up for the common man and woman against the wealth and power of Wall Street.