Editorial: Release your tax returns, Mr. Trump

The Detroit News

Presidential candidates are under no formal obligation to disclose their tax returns, but it has become an invaluable election cycle litmus test. The act of revealing charitable giving and effective tax rates goes a long way with American voters.

But this year’s candidates are a different sort. Hillary Clinton released eight years of tax returns last July, but the former secretary of state has other transparency issues. Her Democratic challenger has pressed Clinton to release transcript of speeches she’s given to Wall Street firms. She has refused.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has refused to release any tax returns. Nominees since Richard Nixon have released some kind of tax information to voters, but as is customary with the Manhattan real-estate mogul, Trump freely flouts tradition. It’s a flip flop to be sure; he told Irish television in 2014 that he would do so. “If I decide to run for office,” Trump said, “I’ll produce my tax returns, absolutely.”

When asked on ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” what his effective tax rate is, Trump responded this way: “It’s none of your business.”

Hard to imagine how Trump will shake up Washington, as he’s promised, with that sort of thinking.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus — suddenly an apologist for Trump — similarly told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that “people just don’t care” about things like tax returns. But a survey out this week from Morning Consult indicates most registered voters do care and want to see Trump’s returns.

Last cycle’s Republican nominee, who released his tax returns too late in the campaign to avoid controversy, says those voters are right. “Tax returns provide the public with its sole confirmation of the veracity of a candidate’s representations,” Mitt Romney wrote in a Facebook post, “regarding charities, priorities, wealth, tax conformance, and conflicts of interest.”

Trump tells those who ask that he won’t release any returns until the Internal Revenue Service completes an audit. But Nixon released his tax returns while under an audit, and the IRS has no ban on disclosing tax returns while it works. The least Trump could do is release tax returns prior to 2009, which are not included in his present audit, but that probably won’t satisfy voters who are now taking his measure.

Romney speculates Trump won’t disclose tax returns because, “we can only assume it’s a bombshell of unusual size.”

Transparency is not Trump’s strong suit. But the financial disclosures are important to verify his claims of business success and his vaunted billionaire status, and to reveal any financial entanglements that might compromise him as president.

We doubt Trump voters are as caught up in the “fair share” rhetoric of the left, but it would be useful to know if he’s used the tax code to his advantage.

Trump has no reason not to show Americans his financial standing. Voters should know what their president does with his own budget before they put him in the Oval Office.