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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes – Trump’s Hidden Tax Returns Edition

Here’s the Clinton campaign’s first ad on the subject of Trump’s unavailble tax froms: 

The Associated Press report “Clinton Releases 2015 Tax Returns, Pushing Trump for His,” notes, “…The Clintons paid a federal tax rate of 34.2 percent in 2015 and made about $10.6 million combined that year. Pulitzer Prize wining financial and tax expert David Cay Johnston writes at The Daily Beast that “The average American pays 13.6 cents out of each dollar in federal income taxes, with those just below the 1 percent paying 18.4 percent and the top 1 percent paying 27 percent, IRS data show.” Further, according to the AP story, they gave more than $1,042,000 to charity, with $1 million going to the Clinton family foundation. That is the financial vehicle the family uses to give money to museums, schools, churches and other charitable causes…The Clintons have disclosed tax returns for every year since 1977…Trump has refused to make his filings public, saying they’re under audit by the Internal Revenue Service…”

Jenna Johnson notes at The Washington Post: “In January, Trump said he was almost ready to disclose his “very big . . . very beautiful” returns. But a month later, Trump reversed course, citing ongoing Internal Revenue Service audits of several years of his taxes…An IRS spokesman said that nothing, including an audit, “prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.” And President Richard Nixon released his tax records while under audit.”

David Cay Johnston also explains in his thorough analysis, “Is a Crook Hiding in Donald Trump’s Taxes?” at The Daily Beast, that “Trump’s excuse—that he is being audited by the IRS—is as phony as the three-dollar bills Trump refers to in speeches. Besides which, Trump’s tax lawyers issued a letter saying audits of his returns for 2002 to 2008 were closed with no changes. So even by Trump’s own standard, no excuse exists for holding back those years or earlier ones, which would also be closed…” Johnston also cites numerous  Trump business interests and dealings in Russia, and believes hiding the damaging details may be a leading reason why Trump has not kept his promise about releasing his tax forms.

At NPR Politics Domenico Montanaro puts into perspective why we should care about Clinton and Trump’s tax history, and cites three important things we can learn from candidates tax filings, including: Are there conflicts of interest?; “Do they have heart?” (charitable contributions) and; “Are they like us?” (how much they earn, their net worth, tax rates and lifestyle).

It is highly doubtful that independent tax analysts would be able to say the same thing about Trump’s tax history, that this report by Rick Newman at Yahoo Finance says of the Clintons’ taxes: “…Almost nobody in that tax bracket pays the large portion of taxes the Clintons pay, because a slew of tax breaks sharply reduces the tax bite for most high earners…There are no tricks or gimmicks here,” says Stuart Gibson, editor of the weekly publication Tax Notes International. “These are white-bread returns.” The Clintons earn nearly all of their income from working rather than from investments, which leaves few options for exploiting the many tax loopholes that other wealthy taxpayers use.”

According to “How Much Does Donald Trump Pay in Taxes? It Could Be Zero” by James B. Stewart at The New York Times, “Mitt Romney was excoriated during the 2012 presidential campaign for paying $4.9 million in federal income tax, or an average of just 14 percent of his adjusted gross income, in the two years for which he released returns…No one should be surprised, though, if Donald J. Trump has paid far less — perhaps even zero federal income tax in some years. Indeed, that’s the expectation of numerous real estate and tax professionals I’ve interviewed in recent weeks…Even though his recent returns are confidential, the notion that Mr. Trump has paid little or no tax is not entirely speculative. It’s consistent with Mr. Trump’s returns from the late 1970s, which he filed with the New Jersey Casino Control Commission when applying for a casino license in 1981. Mr. Trump reported losses and paid no federal income tax in 1978 and 1979 and paid only modest sums — a total of less than $75,000 — for the prior three years.”

The Tax History Project at Tax Analysts has compiled an extraordinary archive of presidential tax returns going back to FDR, and includes links to presidential tax information from 1913 till today. Since the 1970s, notes the Project, most presidents have publicly released their tax returns.

And what does Mr. My taxes are “none of your business”‘ propose to do about tax reform for America?  From David Horsey’s L.A. Times post, “Trump’s tax scheme serves the rich, not working-class white guys“: Trump would get a nice payoff from his proposal to cut the top income tax rate. Then, he and his heirs would receive an enormous gift through the elimination of the federal tax on inherited wealth for couples who have assets of $10.9 million or more. As if that were not enough, Trump would receive enormous tax savings from the provision of his scheme that sharply reduces the tax rate for so-called “pass-through” entities, businesses that pay no corporate taxes but whose owners pay a personal rate based on the profits of their enterprises.” Columnist Clarence Page also notes “The “death tax” he promises to scrap actually is the estate tax, which effects only 0.2 percent of all estates. It doesn’t kick in until the estate exceeds $5.4 million for an individual or $10.9 million for a married couple…Call it what you want but it’s not a tax break for the poor, no matter how many upset waitresses or taxi drivers I run into who think it applies to them.”

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