Top candidates quiet on release of their tax returns

Jeff Horwitz and Will Weissert
Associated Press

Washington — Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, offered this year’s hopefuls a lesson: Release your tax returns before the primaries and avoid tough scrutiny later. But the top three Republicans leading in national polls don’t appear to be listening.

Even as other candidates — most notably Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush — have already disclosed years’ worth of private tax returns to dispel questions about their personal finances, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have failed to do the same despite promises to do so. None of the campaigns will say why they’ve delayed or when the candidates will release their returns.

The best explanation: It’s postponing an unpleasant moment, said Joseph Thorndike, a contributing editor for Tax Notes.

“If you say you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it,” Thorndike said. “I don’t like the disingenuousness of ‘we’re working on it.’” He said the candidates’ tax returns for 2014 were long ago filed with the government.

The three Republicans have unequivocally said they will disclose their returns. Trump, who broke a promise in 2012 to disclose his returns if Obama produced his long-form birth certificate, said in January that he was preparing to release his “big returns.” The Cruz campaign told the Dallas Morning News in April that Cruz would release his returns soon after they were filed, but he still hasn’t. Shortly before Rubio filed his 2014 taxes last year, he told the Tampa Tribune that he would make them public.

The Republican candidates have company on the Democratic side: Bernie Sanders released only excerpts from his 2014 tax returns.

The most interesting of the returns will likely be Trump’s, said Thorndike. Trump posted a photograph of himself on Twitter in October next to a stack of documents several feet tall.

“If Donald Trump’s tax returns really are that big as the stack he had next to him, there’s a lot going on in there,” Thorndike said. Interpreting Trump’s wealth likely won’t be easy without access to the tax returns filed by his corporate entities, which Trump is unlikely to provide.

It’s impossible to say what trouble the returns could cause each candidate, but a key interest for Trump and Cruz will be how much they gave to charity.

There is no legal requirement to share tax returns with the public, but every major party nominee since 1976 has done so.