Mitt Romney and Donald Trump. (photo: Gerald Herbert/AP)
01 August 16
nlike every other major party nominee since 1976, Donald Trump has not released his tax returns.
He claims that he is not releasing his returns because they are under audit. This excuse is something of a non-sequitur. There is nothing preventing Trump from releasing returns that are under audit. The fact that some returns are under audit, as Paul Krugman noted, actually makes it easier to go public. The primary risk in publicizing your tax returns is triggering an audit.
Further, by his own admission, there are many years of tax returns — everything from 2008 and earlier — that are no longer under audit. Trump won’t release those either.
There are 15 years of Hillary Clinton’s tax returns available online.
Nevertheless, Trump has no plans to release his tax returns. His campaign confirmed Wednesday that he “will not be releasing” the returns before the election.
Asked about the issue Thursday night on Fox News, Trump said he has “very, very little pressure” to release the returns.
On that score, he is absolutely right.
ThinkProgress conducted an analysis of coverage of Trump’s tax returns in major newspapers during 2016 and compared them to the coverage of Mitt Romney’s tax returns in 2012.
Romney, like Trump, initially refused to release any of his tax returns. But in January 2012, under pressure from the media Romney released his 2010 tax return and a summary of his 2011 return. It was less than any other major party candidate in decades, but it was something.
Nevertheless, in the first seven months of his election year, Romney generated more than twice the coverage of his tax returns — almost all of it critical — than Trump has generated this year. The contrast is similarly stark at some of the nation’s top national and regional papers:
CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos
Among those critical of Romney’s failure to disclose his returns was Donald Trump himself.
In a January 2012 appearance on Fox News, Trump said that Romney was being “hurt really very badly” by refusing to release his tax returns. He implored Romney to “release them now.”
Trump’s plans for his own returns have varied dramatically. In May, Trump described the release of his tax returns as imminent, saying their release was coming “as fast as the auditors finish.” He switched course days later, telling George Stephanopoulos that his tax rate was “none of your business” and that he fights “very hard to pay as little tax as possible.”
According to information submitted to New Jersey’s gambling commission, Trump paid no taxes at all for at least two years in the 1990s. Similar filings revealed he also paid nothing to the federal government for at least two years in the late 1970s.
Trump’s reluctance to release his returns may go beyond the embarrassment of a low (or 0%) tax rate. His candidacy also presents a dizzying array of conflicts of interest that tax returns could expose in more detail.
His tax returns could also undermine Trump’s claim that he is incredibly rich. Trump claims he is worth $10 billion but that number has been called into question. It is based on multi-billion dollar valuations for nebulous assets like the “Trump” brand. Trump’s personal financial disclosure that he filled with the FEC only required him to reveal assets in broad ranges but showed a much smaller amount of liquid assets. His tax returns could reveal an even bleaker picture.
Trump clearly has a lot to gain from not releasing his tax returns. His explicit calculation is, based on the amount of media scrutiny he’s receiving, why bother?