Enough with the excuses, Senator. These sorts of shenanigans — and make no mistake, that’s exactly what they are at this point — both reduce the pressure on cowardly congressional Democrats to pursue President Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns, and endanger Democrats’ hopes of taking back the presidency in 2020. The progressive positions that Sanders champions, including Medicare-for-all, expanded Social Security and increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, are much too important to both the future of our country and our own personal finances to risk them over tax returns.
Trump broke with decades of precedent in refusing to make his tax returns public when he was running for president. The result? Not only don’t we know our president’s net worth, we also have little idea how he earned his fortune or how he makes his money now. Minus his paperwork, it’s hard to determine whether Trump is using the White House as a just-in-time moneymaking opportunity, violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, and/or even paying his fair share of taxes at all.
There were hopes that a Democratic majority in the House would result in a subpoena of Trump’s taxes. But Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who has the power to subpoena Trump’s taxes, is moving at a snail’s pace, to the point that any congressional-forced reveal of Trump’s returns might not happen until after the 2020 presidential election.
This is not helpful. Democrats need to be ratcheting up their attempts to get the president’s tax returns, not enabling his secrecy. And one way to up the pressure on Trump, not to mention laggards like Neal, is for the Democratic candidates — and I mean all Democratic candidates — to make their own IRS filings public so that they aren’t accused of rank hypocrisy for looking into the president’s finances.
None of this is to say there is definitely something amiss in Sanders’s taxes. He released his 2014 return during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. It was, to use his words, “very boring,” revealing that Sanders both earns a salary and, as a septuagenarian, collects a Social Security check. But one year out of 10 isn’t good enough. Moreover, unless Sanders is undergoing a multiyear audit by the IRS, it’s highly unlikely that he’s putting any “finishing touches” on tax returns that were likely filed almost a decade ago. He’s probably not “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” on any years except, perhaps, 2017 and 2018.
Sanders, of course, is not alone. Beto O’Rourke hasn’t released his tax filings, though he says plans to release some returns “sooner rather than later." Neither has Pete Buttigieg or empowerment-guru-turned candidate Marianne Williamson. Others, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), have released only portions of their taxes in the past. They are all in the wrong. But other Democratic hopefuls get it. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) released more than a decade’s worth of her personal tax returns Monday afternoon. She joined Sens. Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) as well as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, all of whom have made several years of their personal returns available to the voting public. In fact, Warren, as part of her anti-corruption push, introduced legislation that would require the IRS to make public eight years of returns for all people running for president or vice president, in addition to all tax filings made while they held an elected federal office. (It would also make public two years of returns for all people running for the House or the Senate.)
So where are Sanders’s taxes? You got me. His campaign staff did not return repeated requests for comment for this post.
It shouldn’t take genius-level political skills to know that Sanders can’t make Trump’s missing taxes much of an issue at all if he’s hesitant to release his own returns. It could also leave Democrats in a weakened position, if he — or another Democrat who has so far not released his or her taxes — holds off on making them public until late in the process and it turns out there is something of concern in there after all.
Telling people the tax returns will be released “soon” and then lollygagging doesn’t cut it. Sanders is a front-runner, having raised $18.2 million in fundraising in the first quarter of this year. He should act like it, setting an example for the rest of the field. In a nation that is, to be blunt, as corrupt as the United States, there’s a reason that candidates need to make their tax returns available for inspection: No matter how upright a presidential contender is in his or her personal life, no matter how much we might agree or disagree with a candidate’s policy positions, we simply should not assume all is okay without proof. We can’t accept any excuses for a candidate who won’t show us his or her taxes. There ought to be no exceptions.