WEDNESDAY George Bush disclosed his income tax returns for the years he has been vice president. He has paid $303,000 in income taxes on $618,000 in taxable income over three years. Nearly half that amount was paid under protest; Mr. Bush believes he's entitled to exempt from taxes the proceeds from the sale of his house in Houston, which he used a month later to purchase the only house he owns now, in Kennebunkport, Maine. The other three major party nominees have already made such disclosure, and have also disclosed specifics about their assets and liabilities to a greater extent than Mr. Bush has done or says he will do. Is Mr. Bush holding out? Is the public denied information it ought to have to judge his performance in office and his worthiness as a candidate?
We think the answer to these questions is no. Mr. Bush has complied with the laws in this area; the only question is how much farther he should go. To answer that question, remember the purpose of disclosure: to enable voters to decide whether a candidate has used or could use public office for personal benefit. When Mr. Bush became vice president he set up a blind trust that prevents him and Mrs. Bush from knowing what their financial interests are. The trustee can buy or sell stocks, invest in oil and gas properties or stash funds in a savings account; he prepares and signs the Bushes' tax returns. Of all these transactions the Bushes can get no accounting. They are entitled only to an allowance, most of which they haven't taken, and to a net worth figure -- $2.1 million as of last August, nearly half of which is accounted for by the Kennebunkport house.
Mr. Bush's spokesmen say the blind trust has enabled him to "carry out his duties with no possibility of a real or apparent conflict of interest." He could make recommendations on a wide range of regulatory issues, for example, without fear that he could be accused of enhancing the value of his own holdings -- because he doesn't know what those holdings are. That insulation would be destroyed if he dissolved the blind trust and discovered just what his investments specifically are.
Mr. Bush was one of the pioneers of disclosure. Going back to his election to the House in 1966, he has disclosed his assets and tax returns and has divested himself of interests that might be affected by his actions as a public official -- long before such actions were required or widely demanded. He put his holdings into blind trusts when he served in appointive office in the 1970s. What he has run up against now is that the goals of disclosure and insulation, if you carry them far enough, are in collision. If you want full insulation, you can't get full disclosure. Mr. Bush has made a satisfactory resolution of these conflicting purposes, and should not be criticized for not disclosing as much as others, whose trusts are not as blind and insulation is not as total, have done.