Ronald Reagan's 1982 tax return provides a profile of a wealthy man who, though president, does not feel obliged to practice what he preaches.
He said a year ago that he realizes "the publicity that has attended upon the tax returns of someone" in his position, but it does not trouble him inordinately.
Two items caught the eye of his fellow taxpayers, who scrutinize his returns with an interest that he perhaps feels is unseemly.
One was his check beside the "No" box on allowing a dollar of his tax money--and one of Nancy Reagan's--to be given to public funds for presidential campaigns.
Reagan's philosophical objection to public funding is well known. It is shared by conservatives. Tax accountants say that liberal Democrats accounted for most of the $153.5 million that was checked off last year.
John B. Connally, in 1980, looked, for a brief moment, principled, when he turned down matching public funds with a statement that all candidates should help effect "a giant step towards returning the electoral process to the American people." What he meant was that he had to be free of the limits imposed by federal funds in order to catch up with Reagan, who he said had been "running for 10 years and had spent $25 million."
Despite Reagan's conviction that private-sector financing is better, he exhibited no self-consciousness in accepting from the Federal Election Commission a total of more than $40 million for his campaigns for the presidency in 1976 and 1980.
You might think that a public man who got that much money might feel he should throw a dollar the way of a system that provided him so much welfare. But Ronald Reagan may tell himself that he is not really needy, that he has rich friends who would provide for him should his wish that public financing be abandoned ever come true.
There is, however, no reason to think that he will not continue to apply.
Philip Stern, the author-activist who organized "Americans for Fair Elections" to popularize the campaign checkoff, was turned down by the Republican National Committee when he asked for their cooperation.
Did that infer, he asked, that Reagan, if a candidate in 1984, would disdain public money. The answer was, "You may make no such inference."
Campaign reformers argue that federal funding will insulate candidates from the pernicious influence of special interests and political action committee money.
But the checkoff has never seriously caught on. The returns have averaged about 30 percent since Congress passed it in 1972, in the flood tide of revulsion over President Nixon's secret, laundered, virtually extorted $60 million campaign kitty.
Reagan has never pretended to be a reformer. If the do-gooders want to spring for him, it is their business. He is not going to serve their cause. The other message from his returns was the clear suggestion that he does not take too seriously his own frequent sermons on voluntary giving.
He is forever advancing the notion, as he cuts government programs to help the down and out, that it would be "good for the soul of this country to encourage people to help one another." Last year, when asked if in the light of his exhortations, he might lead the way by increasing his own charitable contributions, he said both that he would and that he wouldn't.
He granted that some people "have noticed that there seemed to be a small percentage of deductions for worthwhile causes" in his past returns. He said it would be true again, because he hadn't "changed his habits," which, we have been given to understand, means that he gives to individuals whose hard-luck stories are brought to him personally.
But, he said, he was "going to have to start publicly doing some things." He described himself as "someone who believes in tithing--the giving of a tenth." His 1982 returns reflect only the fact that he has not really changed.
In 1981, he gave $11,895, of which $5,930 was Mrs. Reagan's controversial contribution of her dresses to fashion museums.
This year's increase was not dramatic, and hardly tithing. His 1982 contributions totaled $15,563, or 2 percent of his $741,163 income.
Included were $9,963 in unspecified contributions, $5,000 to his alma mater, Eureka College, and a gift to a Los Angeles charity called "The Colleagues" of an ornamental wrought-iron table and four chairs "in perfect condition" and worth $600.
At the briefing on the tax returns, White House spokesman Larry Speakes was asked if the figures represented all the contributions the president had made. Speakes said he would find out.
But yesterday, when asked for the answer, Speakes said he had not asked the president and would leave the matter in "the private prerogative."
Apparently, the president feels he gives in the office.