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“The Issues Are Not Even Close To Parallel”: Tax Transparency: Jane Sanders Goes Back On Disclosure Promise

Jane Sanders, wife of Bernie, backtracked Tuesday on promises both she and the senator made to release the couple’s complete tax returns for the years 2006 through 2013, making a red herring excuse.

The returns will be released, Jane suggested, when Hillary Clinton provides transcript of her lucrative speeches to Wall Street firms. Clinton should absolutely release the transcripts and she should have done so long ago, but the issues are not even close to parallel.

Two wrongs do not a right make. And being a good guy politician does not exempt one from criticism from those who favor many of his policies, including me.

In comments to Wolf Blitzer on CNN midday Tuesday, Jane Sanders revealed that she and her husband either lack an understanding of the historic reasons it is crucial that presidential candidates release many years of complete tax returns, that they lack a broad regard for integrity in government or that they have something to hide.

The latter concern grows from Jane Sanders’ own conduct. First, she falsely asserted that the couple had repeatedly released tax returns, an assertion with no basis in fact as my April 13 National Memo column showed. Then there was her role as the president of a small, financially struggling nonprofit college, where she reportedly funneled $500,000 to her daughter and may have made false statements on bank loan papers.

But even if the Sanders tax returns are clean as a whistle, we should care about the Sanders tax returns. That the one nearly complete return they have made available, for 2014, is pretty standard for a couple in their age and income brackets is entirely beside the point.

We should care because we want every single person running for president to make public their complete tax returns – including schedules, statements and worksheets – for many years so that we do not ever again have an unindicted felon in the White House or an admitted tax cheat just a heartbeat away.

If a white hat politician like Sanders will not follow a tradition dating to the corrupt, tax-cheating presidency of Richard Nixon and his first vice president, Spiro Agnew, it gives aid and comfort to those who want to hide their black hat conduct.

Sanders runs as Mr. Transparency, railing against what goes on beyond closed doors when Wall Streeters and CEOs meet with politicians. Yet the junior Senator from Vermont seems willfully blind to how his own conduct undermines his important arguments, which have received far too little attention in the mainstream news.

If Sanders will not walk his talk he cannot credibly challenge those whom he says, with good reason, are rigging the economy for their benefit. That loss of credibility is terrible because Sanders is raising issues that need our attention, about policies that must change or the wealthiest Americans will grow ever richer by diminishing the income and assets of the vast majority, as I have been documenting for more than 20 years.

But much worse than damage to Sanders’ credibility is the aid and comfort he gives to politicians, including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich who have released nothing (Trump) or only summaries (Cruz and Kasich). Cruz and Kasich are both rich thanks to Wall Street. Heidi Cruz is a Goldman Sachs-er and Kasich made a fortune fast at Lehman Brothers, the overleveraged firm whose collapse set in motion the Great Recession.

The only one of the Final 5 who has fully released is Hillary Clinton. Her and Bill’s complete tax returns to 1992 are posted at taxhistory.org as are many other partial and complete tax returns dating back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt administrations.

We really need to see the full tax returns of those three before any one of them is nominated by their party, but Sanders is making it easy for them to say no to disclosure.

Think ahead to the elections of 2020, 2024 and beyond, especially if the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision stands, enabling the wealthiest Americans to pour unlimited sums into elections. Some of that money will be to persuade. But as presidents including John Adams and James Madison warned, the business aristocrats will also trick people when it is in their interests to do so – and with Citizens United they can do so with abandon.

Plenty of people who want to exercise power over us from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will want to keep their tax returns out of public record now and for as long as the United States of America endures. Many of them who have something to hide will cite Sanders as their model. Some because their tax returns will show they paid little or no income tax for many years (Romney in 2012, Trump in 2016). Others may have taken aggressive positions that raise questions about their character and conduct. Still others may have unreported income, which we might learn if they disclose fully for many years and disgruntled business associates, mistresses or others come forth with cancelled checks, financial statements and other proofs.

What does it tell us that Sanders and his wife, who knew full well a year ago that they would be asked for their complete tax returns at least since 2007, have played a game of “hide the documents”? What does it tell us that Jane Sanders made an unconditional promise on Mark Halperin’s Bloomberg television program and now dishonors her word? What does it tell us that a man who rightfully demands transparency from others will not hold himself to the same standards?

And if there is something the Sanders need to hide – and I sure hope not — we need to know that, too. Why? Because even if Sanders fails to get the Democratic Party nomination for president, we don’t want crooks in the Senate any more than in the Oval Office.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, April 27, 2016

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Presidential Candidates, Tax Returns | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Let’s End This Myth, Please”: Donald Trump STILL Isn’t Self-Funding His Campaign

Let’s end this myth, please.

After every one of Donald Trump’s campaign finance reports has become publicly available, the media breathlessly reports how much more money Trump has given his campaign.

In March, it was $11.5 million. So far in total, it’s $36 million.

A few weeks ago, I broke down why Donald Trump’s claim that he is “self-funding” his campaign is ridiculous: he’s loaning himself money at zero interest, not paying his campaign’s expenses outright, so that he can pay himself back in the future with money fundraised from his supporters.

Even if he were to pay off all of his loans with his own money — don’t count on it — Trump has so far received more than $12 million dollars in small (and large) contributions from his supporters, much of it through hat sales but some also in the form of maximum allowable cash donations. That’s not “self-funding,” not at all.

Candidates must also pay themselves for “in-kind,” or non-monetary, donations from companies that they own. In March, according to nj.com, Trump paid $476,426 to his own Tag Air — which has received more total Trump campaign money than anyone besides Rick Reed Media, Trump’s advertising people —  $83,597 on Trump Tower, where his campaign is headquartered, and more than $4,000 for lodging at his own hotels.

But we haven’t even seen the start of it.

Assuming Trump wins the Republican Party nomination, it seems increasingly unlikely that he will continue “paying” for his campaign himself. In 2012, both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama’s campaigns — and supportive outside groups including super PACs — spent more than a billion dollars each on the election.

This time, some estimate the total cost of electing a president may be twice as high.

Though Donald Trump has held his tax records extremely close to the chest, unless he has $2 billion dollars lying around — and he’ll need all of it, against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — he will be forced to fundraise through more traditional channels: more high-dollar fundraisers, more mass appeals for donations from his supporters, and more accepting help from outside groups.

Don’t be surprised, amid all of that commotion, when we find out Trump’s $36 million in campaign debts to himself have suddenly… disappeared. And perfectly legally, too.

 

By: Matt Shuham, The National Memo, April 22, 2016

April 23, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Donald Trump, Tax Returns | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gaming Election Laws”: Donald Trump’s Right That The Game Is Rigged—For Him To Make Money By Running

Win or lose, Donald Trump appears poised to come out ahead financially from his run for the White House thanks to campaign finance laws that, as he has pointed out, were not written with candidates of great wealth in mind.

Those laws let Trump shift many of his lifestyle costs to his campaign and earn a tidy profit, as we shall see.

The commercialization of the presidency is a modern development. When Harry S. Truman left the White House he had to live on his $112 a month (about $1,120 a month in today’s money) World War I army pension.

The big money for former presidents started with Gerald Ford, the only appointee to that post who turned his 29 months in office into a lucrative post-White House career making public appearances. Ronald Reagan upped the ante by collecting $2 million for speeches in Japan alone after he left the White House, plus much more money from other speeches and book royalties.

The full potential of the entrepreneurial ex-president, though, came when Bill Clinton left the White House. Together with his wife, Hillary, who hopes to be the next president, the couple raked in more than $153 million in speaking fees alone. She made $21 million from 91 speeches—with most of the money coming from Wall Street firms.

But Trump has figured out how to profit not by becoming president but merely by declaring himself a candidate—fulfilling his own prediction from 16 years ago, when he was running as the candidate of the tiny Reform Party, and told Fortune magazine: “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”

At the time, Trump had a deal with Tony Robbins, the traveling motivational speaker, to deliver 10 speeches for $1 million. Trump coordinated his campaign stops with the speeches, boasting that this meant he was “making a lot of money” from flying his 1969 model Boeing 727 to campaign events.

He may be making lots more money this time. Here’s how: Federal law builds in a profit for a candidate who owns his own aircraft by requiring them to charge the campaign charter rates, which include a profit.

Most candidates hire planes, services, and equipment as needed during a campaign, giving them an incentive to get the lowest price so they have more money free to spend on television commercials, consultants, and get-out-the-vote drives.

But someone who must bear the ongoing cost of a private jet and helicopter, or a building, has an incentive to shift as much of the costs as possible to the campaign.

The same is true for shifting to the campaign the salaries and fringe benefits paid to bodyguards, which Trump has employed for at least 30 years.

If enough donations come in from supporters, Trump’s campaign can relieve Trump of much of the multimillion-dollar annual costs of his Boeing 757-200 jet—complete with gold-plated seatbelts, dining room, two bedrooms, and shower—and Sikorsky S-76 helicopter.

Trump claims he paid $100 million in 2011 for his 1991 model plane. At the time, aircraft brokers listed such planes for about $20 million, although they were outfitted for commercial airline service. Current prices are in the neighborhood of $10 million.

By putting that astronomical value on his plane, he can justify—assuming he’s put that number in his tax returns, which he’s yet to release, and not just his public bragging—a much higher charter rate, one that’s now paid to Trump by the Trump campaign.

All told, Trump’s Federal Election Commission spending reports show payments of $3.2 million to Trump Air Group (TAG), the Florida firm that operates his aircraft. That is almost 10 percent of the $33.4 million the campaign spent through February.

For comparison, Hillary Clinton, who has traveled much more extensively on the campaign trail, has spent about $2.5 million chartering jets. That is less than 2 percent of the $129 million her campaign has reported spending.

Donations have covered about 29 percent of Trump’s roughly $12,500 per day in aircraft costs. The rest is in the form of loans Trump made to the campaign, which may eventually be paid off with future donations.

Federal law says candidates who own their own aircraft must charge their campaign “the fair market value of the normal and usual charter fare or rental charge for a comparable plane of comparable size.”

Data from Boeing, analyzed by flight companies, suggests operating costs in the range of $8,000 to $9,000 per flight-hour when jet fuel prices were double current levels.

Charles Williams, editor of a British website which analyzes airline industry costs, and several charter operators put the hourly operating costs of a 757-200 in that range with charter flights starting at about $14,000 an hour. The chief sales agent for one charter firm told me that charges for blinged-out 757 like Trump’s could be as much as $30,000 per flight-hour.

Williams said the charter fees Trump charges the campaign, after a back of the envelope analysis using the limited data available from the campaign, seem reasonable.

So each hour Trump flies his jet to and from campaign events he both relieves himself of part of the burden of the plane’s fixed costs and turns a profit of several thousand dollars.

The law’s reference to “a comparable plane of comparable size” also suggests that Trump can charge a much higher than typical price for a Boeing 757 because he asserts it is the most fancily decked out private aircraft of its kind.

That’s right: He’s found the alchemist’s recipe for turning glitz into cash.

The campaign has also rented space in Trump Tower and rooms from Trump-branded hotels—both of which can legally charge rates that include a normal profit.

America would benefit from politicians as public servants and not from a campaign of presidency for profit.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The Daily Beast, April 19, 2016

April 20, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Finance Laws, Donald Trump, Presidential Elections, Tax Returns | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“He Needs To Walk His Talk”: Tax Transparency; Jane Sanders Claims Returns Released In ‘Every Election’

A basic rule of politics is that when you have a problem, get it all out and put it behind you. The worst response is to dither and then shoot yourself in the foot.

With the Bernie Sanders campaign, we are seeing the candidate repeatedly shoot himself in the foot over what would be a non-issue, if only he had forthrightly answered a question that has dogged him since last summer.

Where are your tax returns?

It’s a question that goes not just to Sanders but also to all the other politicians who want us to trust them in the most powerful office in the world but want to hide their finances and tax strategies. That includes Donald Trump, whose tax returns I will be shocked if we ever see; and Republicans Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who like Sanders have only released the summary form 1040 and not their complete returns, as I recently noted here.

Last summer, NPR and the Washington Post asked Sanders for his tax returns, a question the senator had to know would be raised because releasing them has been standard practice for presidential aspirants since Watergate, when America had an unindicted tax criminal in the Oval Office and a confessed tax felon a heartbeat from the presidency.

Sanders had made available only his and wife Jane’s 2014 Form 1040, a summary lacking crucial details about their sources of income, deductions, and tax strategy.

In late March I asked for Sanders’ complete tax returns back to 2007, when he became senator. What I got back was a dissembling statement from his campaign spokesman, followed by silence when I sent follow-up questions via email.

Now this story has taken a very troubling turn, one that raises serious questions about the Senator’s judgment and his wife’s veracity.

On Bloomberg TV’s With All Due Respect last Mondayhost Mark Halperin asked Jane Sanders when she would disclose the couple’s tax returns. In her reply, she claimed “every election we released them.”

My diligent reporting has failed to turn up any indication that her statement is true.

I made extensive telephone calls, interviewed a former Sanders election opponent, thoroughly searched Google, the Internet archive known as the “Wayback Machine,” the Nexis database, Newspapers.com, and files of Vermont’s largest newspaper, the Burlington Free Press. I called veteran Vermont political reporters and operatives.

Except for one reporter who said he had a vague recollection that perhaps, some years ago, he may have seen a partial Sanders tax return, nothing I learned lends any credence to what Jane Sanders claimed.

Halperin asked a series of questions trying to pin down Ms. Sanders, who said she prepares the couple’s tax returns using the TurboTax computer program. She indicated a vague awareness that their taxes had been sought during the prior two weeks by, she suggested, the Hillary Clinton campaign.

But I was the one doing the requesting. I clearly identified myself as a journalist. I have no connection to the Clinton campaign and, for the record, am registered to vote in Republican primaries. (I have also written favorably about Sanders’ economic proposals and appeared as a guest on his radio show.)

While Halperin pressed Ms. Sanders repeatedly, she pleaded for time to find and release their pre-2014 tax returns. She promised without reservation that the returns would be released, adding, “Well, sure, I will have to go back and find them — we haven’t been home for a month.”

Halperin asked if she would release full returns, not just Form 1040.

“Sure, no problem,” she replied.

When?

“I would say well, when they are due I would expect them to come out,” she said.

Halperin asked how many years of returns would be released, noting Hillary Clinton has released eight years. (Actually all of the returns filed by her and her husband dating back to 1992 are available at taxhistory.org).

That was when Jane Sanders said: “Every election we have released them…we did when he ran for election, yeah. I’ll release this year’s as soon as they’re due… and can I have time to go home to retrieve the older ones?

Just how Mrs. Sanders would prepare the 2015 tax return by the April 18 deadline, but not have access to a prior year return, is an interesting question that Halperin did not ask.

Had those returns been released in 2012, 2006, and in Sanders’ earlier races, it would be reasonable to expect that there would be at least passing mention of them in Vermont news reports.

Furthermore, the candidate would be able to point me or anyone else inquiring to a staffer, a political operative, a friend, or someone who had kept a copy of his returns or even just remembers seeing a copy.

Richard Tarrant, a successful medical software entrepreneur who ran against Sanders in 2006, told me that had he ever seen either the form 1040 or the complete tax return of Bernie and Jane Sanders, he would have reviewed the document carefully to learn all he could about their finances — and whether the tax return showed any political vulnerabilities in that race. Tarrant, who had a big interest in seeking the Sanders’ returns, said he never saw one.

Michael Briggs, chief press spokesperson for the Sanders campaign, did not respond to questions I submitted in writing.

The silence from Briggs is itself troubling, since his employer is campaigning as Mr. Transparency.

Now there may well be nothing of consequence in the Sanders tax returns. But that is not the issue. Sanders is giving aid to those politicians who want to end the practice of disclosing tax returns, while marketing himself as a politician untainted by big donations and lobbyists.

He needs to walk his talk.

And meanwhile if anyone out there has an old Sanders tax return, please send it to me: [email protected]

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, April 13, 2016

April 16, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Presidential Candidates, Tax Returns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Art Of The Hustle”: Donald Trump’s ‘Charity’ Is A Money-Making Scam

No wonder Donald Trump calls himself an ardent philanthropist.

He has likely made millions off it.

He is not just some cheap miser who avoids digging into his pocket for charity, as The Smoking Gun and The Washington Post have described him.

He does not simply avoid giving.

He gets.

Maybe his book should have been called The Art of the Hustle.

His biggest score appears to have come in 2006, and if he ever releases his tax return for that year, we will learn if he is a felon or just a liar.

Either way, the self-proclaimed “ardent philanthropist” seems to give precious little money to charity while receiving millions in deductions by donating land he valued at somewhere between 13 and 50 times what he paid for it.

Back in the 1990s, Trump paid $2 million for two parcels of land totaling 436 acres north of New York City with the hope of building a pair of golf courses.

He initially sought to overcome various environmental obstacles and permitting hurdles by applying his self-described mastery of deal making. He placed a phone call to the then supervisor of the Westchester County village of Yorktown, Linda Cooper.

“Linda, just let me build the golf course—I’m rich, you’ll like it,’” Trump said, by her recollection.

Cooper would tell the press that Trump “just didn’t want to go through the rules.”

She offered the same description of Trump that others would later offer during his present presidential campaign.

“He’s like the bully on the playground,” Cooper told the Journal News. “Whether you are a big person or a little person, you have to follow the same rules. If he chooses to stop the process, so be it.”

The rules remained the rules, and Trump did indeed choose to stop the process in 2002.

“You have done a terrible disservice to your constituents who have sadly lost out on a tremendous opportunity,” Trump said in a letter to Cooper.

Trump suggested to reporters that he had been making a sacrifice to begin with.

“My problem is that I can make much more money with housing than I can with a golf course,” he said.

He announced, “I have put a ‘For Sale’ sign out,” and said it was sure to attract “every developer in Westchester.”

He had yet to sell the land four years later, when he donated it to New York State for a park.

“You know me,” he said. “I never throw up my hands. I fight back. I could have sold the property to a developer, because it’s zoned for houses. Instead, I’m giving it to the state, which is the best thing to do.”

The park would of course be named after himself. The gift came with a further condition.

“The name will be prominently displayed at least at each entrance to the park,” read a letter from his attorney to the state.

A press conference was held at the new Donald J. Trump State Park. Trump was joined by his wife, Melania, and two of his children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka.

“This is so beautiful, am I allowed to change my mind?” he joked to his wife.

He said his children had suggested donation as a way “to do something spectacular.”

“I have always loved the city and state of New York and this is my way of trying to give something back,” Trump said, as then-Gov. George Pataki stood beside him, beaming approvingly. “I hope that these 436 acres of property will turn into one of the most beautiful parks anywhere in the world.”

A reporter asked the value of the land in question.

“People have told me about $100 million,” Trump said.

The press took that to mean the donation was worth $100 million, an impression Trump made no effort to dispel.

A town planning official would later suggest that the land was more likely worth in the vicinity of $15 million.

The question now is whether Trump claimed the $100 million valuation as a charitable deduction in his income tax return for 2006. That would seem to constitute tax fraud, a felony.

But a list of Trump’s supposed charitable donations compiled by his campaign and given to the Associated Press is topped by this entry:

“LAND DONATED TO NYS OFFICE OF PARKS—YORKTOWN, NY—436 ACRES…$26,100,000”

That appraisal would be more in keeping with reality and on the honest side of outright fraud if he used it in his tax return. He would not be a felon after all, just a liar who exaggerated the value of the land by some $73,900,000.

He has said, “I fight like hell not to pay a lot of tax,” so he almost certainly sought a big-time tax break from the donation.

Even the much smaller deduction resulting from the $26.1 million valuation would likely still be worth millions more than the $2 million he paid for the land.

Talk about ardent philanthropy!

Trump also remains that rare soul who made money off the 9/11 attacks. He gave little if any of his own money in the aftermath when the whole world was offering to help, but he accepted $150,000 to offset supposed business losses at his building several blocks from Ground Zero.

By contrast, Rosie O’Donnell gave $1 million the day after the attacks. Trump has called her a fat pig.

On Saturday, Trump seemed to reduce his 9/11 net profit by presenting the September 11 Memorial with a check for $100,000 while making his first visit there.

But The Washington Post reported that the check was actually drawn on the Trump Foundation. And Trump does not seem to have given anything to the foundation that bears his name since 2008. The funds handed out in his name have actually come from such various sources as a World Wrestling Federation, a Queens carpet wholesaler, and a prominent ticket scalper known as The Ticket Man.

On Monday, a spokesman for the September 11 Memorial was unable to confirm that Trump’s check had indeed come from the foundation rather than The Donald himself. Should the money prove to have come out of his pocket, he will remain $50,000 ahead from 9/11.

Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump State Park was closed in 2010 as a result of budget cuts. Signs prominently bearing his name are still posted not only at the entrances, as required by the agreement, but on nearby parkway exits.

Only his 2006 tax return will show if Trump is a felon or a liar.

Only that return will document if he was not a big-time giver but a big-time getter.

Only all his tax returns—which the IRS says he has no reason not to release despite his talk about audits —will tell the full story of The Art of the Hustle.

 

By: Michael Daly, The Daily Beast, April 11, 2016

April 13, 2016 Posted by | Charitable Donations, Donald Trump, Tax Returns | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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