The CNN town hall with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reminded viewers about the matter of Sanders’s own tax returns, which he never put out in 2016. He still hasn’t made them available and refused to give a finite deadline for releasing them.
Here was the exchange with Wolf Blitzer on Monday night:
Boy, did he look uncomfortable.
He tried to excuse his failure to release his tax returns last time on the grounds that he didn’t wind up getting the nomination. Now, he’s not actually going to withhold his tax returns through the entire primary season, right? Well, he says he’ll release them “soon.” “We have to do just a few more little things,” he said. Do what things?
The excuse that he and his wife don’t have a fleet of accountants doesn’t make any sense when we are talking about 10 years of prior years’ returns. Presumably, those were completed long ago. (He can supplement his disclosure when he files his return this year for 2018.)
This would be suspicious and disturbing even if we had not elected a president who never turned over his taxes and has perpetuated a host of conflicts of interest and continued to receive foreign emoluments.
It’s not that we imagine Sanders has a hidden hotel empire or Russian bank accounts; it is that he seems not to grasp the centrality of transparency and commitment to fighting corruption among office-holders (not merely the actions of lobbyists, businesses and billionaire donors). It shouldn’t take a political strategist to tell Democrats they will need to skewer President Trump in 2020 for corruption and lack of transparency. (New Jersey is even trying to bar to ballot access for those who haven’t turned over 10 years of tax returns.)
There is no excuse for all candidates not to do this immediately. In fact, any candidate who has not released his or her tax returns well in advance of the first caucus shouldn’t be eligible to seek the nomination.
Whatever you think of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) policy ideas, she long ago released a comprehensive ethics reform bill. It has a few constitutional issues, as I have pointed out, but it is serious and far-reaching and requires release of financial information “not just for presidential candidates, but for every candidate for every federal office.” As Blitzer pointed out, she has also posted on line 10 years of tax returns.
If Democratic candidates don’t grasp the centrality of anti-corruption in the campaign after all we have been through with Trump, you wonder if they are equipped to beat the most corrupt president in history. If Democrats are to be successful they will need, among other things, to point to Trump’s unprecedented financial shenanigans and secrecy. And, to exploit Trump’s vulnerabilities — including his foreign entanglements, conflicts of interest and possible constitutional violations — Democrats will need to be above reproach. Any of the current crop of candidates who seriously wants to contend for the nomination better open up their finances now, not after the first contest, let alone after the nomination has been decided.