The public is entitled to see the federal income tax returns of U.S. presidents, as well as all party nominees for that high office.
Disclosure is especially important where a president or presidential nominee has business ventures that may do business with federal governmental entities or where they may reap substantial benefits from governmental policy measures they support, such as tax legislation.
Every president since Gerald Ford has released his tax returns for public inspection, except our current president. During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump promised he would release his tax returns, but he has refused to honor that promise. Disclosure is important so that taxpayers can see for themselves whether a president or nominee is conducting his or her financial affairs in an honest and legal manner.
The New York Times has just issued a detailed report on financial transactions between Trump and his father that raises serious concerns of impropriety. The report concludes that the two engaged in fraudulent activities to avoid paying federal taxes owing on a massive amount of wealth transferred to Trump from his father. If Trump participated in a scheme to evade millions of dollars in taxes, we are entitled to know. The president claims the report is inaccurate. Public release of the tax returns would disclose who is telling the truth.
On another tax issue, the president strongly supported last year’s tax cut legislation. He proclaimed that he would be paying more taxes under the bill, but tax experts and common sense indicate otherwise. The only pertinent question is how much he benefited from various provisions of the tax bill. It is a classic conflict of interest situation and the public is entitled to have access to his tax returns to see what he got out of his tax legislation. Previous presidents have laid their financial cards on the table and he should keep his promise to do likewise.
Another concern that could be alleviated by the release of the presidential tax returns relates to ongoing payments the Trump organization has been receiving from the federal government. These payments come from taxpayers’ pockets. The president’s business entities--his Washington hotel, Trump Tower in New York City and various resort properties, among others--have been getting paid for the use of his properties. They have also been receiving money from lobbyists and others seeking favor with the government.
Taxpayers are left in the dark as to monies funneling into the Trump coffers from the ongoing business activities of the Trump businesses. This is an unprecedented intertwining of politics and business that demands full disclosure to the public. If there is nothing improper, the tax returns will support the president’s denials of misconduct.
Congress has the power to require disclosure of the presidential tax returns and should get up the gumption to do it. If our senators and congressmen are unwilling to exercise their oversight responsibilities, perhaps they deserve to be retired at the ballot box.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice.