We should recognize a special day for presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an anniversary of sorts. One month ago, he promised during a town hall with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer to release his tax returns “soon”:
A month is more than enough to make a few fixes (!), as Sanders described it. There is no excuse whatsoever not to release nine years of taxes preceding 2018. They were completed long ago, and other than blacking out personal information (e.g. phone number, Social Security number), nothing should need to be done other than to post them online.
If this sounds familiar, it is. Sanders promised in an April 2016 debate that he would release his tax returns — the next day. He released a single year, 2014.
Are we too cynical to suspect Sanders doesn’t want to release 10 years of taxes? It’s peculiar, to say the least, that after a full presidential campaign in 2016 and significant time on the trail in the 2020 cycle, Sanders hasn’t felt the need to distinguish himself dramatically from Trump, adhere to his own standards regarding transparency, and spare his party and the country from any surprises (should he be nominated or elected).
If we are right that Sanders really doesn’t want to do this, then one has to ask what he is trying to hide. What precise kind of problem that might exist we do not know, but the mystery surrounding his tax returns hangs like a dark cloud over his campaign.
We don’t know, for example, if there is concern about the think tank founded by his wife, Jane, and son that is shutting down. The Associated Press reported:
The Sanders Institute, a think tank founded by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ wife and son, is shutting down, at least for now, amid criticism that the nonprofit has blurred the lines between family, fundraising and campaigning. …
While it operates at a fraction of the scale of the Clinton Foundation, it has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars during its brief existence and has declined to disclose its donors.
Jane Sanders, who also serves as a chief adviser to her husband’s presidential campaign, is not compensated for her role at the institute. Her son, David Driscoll, is paid $100,000 a year as co-founder and executive director. Driscoll previously was an executive for Nike and the Vermont snowboarding firm Burton, but had no previous nonprofit experience, according to his LinkedIn profile.
The lack of transparency and the family ties have drawn criticism from good-government advocates.
We don’t know if there’s some lingering problem relating to Jane Sanders’s tenure as head of the now defunct Burlington College. A federal probe into that closed with no criminal charges in 2018:
The investigation centered on a 2010 land purchase that relocated the college Jane Sanders previously ran to a new campus on more than 32 acres along Lake Champlain. While lining up a $6.7 million loan and additional financing, she told college trustees and lenders that the college had commitments for millions of dollars in donations that could be used to repay the loan, according to former trustees and state officials.
Trustees said they later discovered that many of the donors had not agreed to the amounts or the timing of the donations listed on documents Sanders provided to a state bonding agency and a bank. That led to her resignation in 2011 amid complaints from some trustees that she had provided inaccurate information, former college officials said.
Again, we simply do not know what the issue might be, because Bernie Sanders hasn’t honored his month-old pledge.
All Democratic candidates should release 10 years of tax returns, certainly before the first Democratic presidential primary debate in June. Sanders, however, is in a different category. He promised to release tax returns forthwith. If he wants to play Clintonian and Trumpian word games with the definition of “soon,” that’s his prerogative. However, that should tell voters something about his honesty and transparency.
There is a way to prompt Sanders to finally keep his promise: No more campaign donations until he releases 10 years of tax returns. Period. It’s sad it may come to this, but what other recourse do Democratic voters have at this stage?
Now, in the unfortunate event that Sanders hasn’t released his tax returns by the Iowa contest, no Democrat should caucus for him. If they do then, Democrats may wind up in the situation in which a candidate who has not released a complete picture of his taxes either gets the nomination (!) or at the very least goes to the convention with delegates and thereby helps determine the winner, the vice-presidential pick or some significant policy issue. That would be entirely unacceptable for a party that has railed against Trump’s financial secrecy. Accordingly, that is why he should not be able to win a single delegate without first releasing 10 years of tax returns. It’s long past “soon.”