mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“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

“Disclosures Neither Accurate Nor Honest”: Why Hasn’t Bernie Sanders Released His Tax Returns? (Or Cruz Or Kasich, Either…)

Bernie Sanders holds himself out to huge and adoring crowds as a model of personal, political and financial integrity. But when it comes to revealing his income tax returns, Sanders is as tricky a politician as Republicans Ted Cruz and John Kasich.

In this bizarre political year, Donald Trump has shown more candor than Sanders when it comes to his tax returns. That is an amazing and disturbing feat, given Trump’s penchant for exaggeration and just making stuff up, as I have been documenting since 1988. Understand that while Trump has fabricated an excuse for not disclosing any of his income tax returns, he was being more forthright than Sanders, who tries to pretend that he has disclosed his taxes.

What may surprise some is that of the five remaining Presidential candidates, only Hillary Clinton has been completely candid and forthright about her and her husband’s income tax returns, a policy of theirs that dates at least to 1992. Despite her singular transparency, news organizations routinely write, without citing any verifiable supporting facts, about Clinton’s perceived mendacity.

So what’s the issue? The Sanders, Cruz and Kasich campaigns have all distributed what they claim are tax returns; Kasich for seven years, Cruz for four, and Sanders for just one year, 2014.

But those proclaimed disclosures were neither accurate nor honest. None of those candidates has released even a single tax return.

What they made public instead was merely a summary known as IRS Form 1040. That form is no more a tax return than the Preamble is the Constitution.

No, a tax return is the entire document filed with the IRS – the forms, schedules, and statements that reveal the numbers and calculations about income, deductions, and tax liabilities behind the summary information on Form 1040. Without the full tax return, the public cannot know sources of income, justifications for deductions, or how aggressively tax law was applied to reduce the income tax due.

History tells us that disclosing complete tax returns, not just a summary form, is vital to determining a president’s trustworthiness. It was only 45 years ago that (freshly “resigned”) Vice President Spiro Agnew plead guilty to one count of tax evasion, making him a felon. Without the action of an IRS employee who illegally leaked President Nixon‘s 1969 through 1972 tax returns, we would never have known about the tax crimes in which the president was an unindicted co-conspirator, and for which one of his advisors plead guilty. If all we had were Nixon’s and Agnew’s Form 1040s, their tax crimes would have remained unknown.

On disclosing tax returns Trump scores better than Sanders, because while Trump will not release his returns, citing a bogus excuse, he has not tried to pretend that he did disclose. But that is exactly what Sanders, Cruz and Kasich did. (Trump says he can’t disclose because he is under IRS audit, even though revealing his returns would have no impact on the audit of a tax return, which is signed under penalty of perjury.)

Contrast their conduct with Hillary Clinton, whose every tax return signed by her and husband Bill has been disclosed since at least 1992. That’s how we know they are far more charitable than the self-described “ardent philanthropist” Donald Trump or any other of the various presidents back to FDR (and some presidential wannabes like Newt Gingrich) who have made public their tax returns. Those returns, and in some cases only Form 1040s, are posted at taxhistory.org, a website maintained by the nonprofit Tax Analysts, for which I write critiques of tax policy.

As for Sanders, the single Form 1040 he released raises more questions than it answers, especially since the junior senator from Vermont has a history of making incomplete and misleading financial disclosures.

In 2014, he reported an adjusted gross income of $205,271, most of it from his Senate salary.

What appears unusual are his itemized deductions, totaling $56,377, a whopping 27.4 percent of his income. People in his income class of $200,000 to $500,000 on average take 15.6 percent of their income as deductions, while those in the $100,000 to $200,000 range averaged 18.8 percent. Both averages are far below the Sanders itemization rate.

Sanders and his wife paid $27,653 in federal income tax, or 13.4 percent of their adjusted gross income.

When I tried to look more closely at Sanders’ taxes, Michael Briggs, the chief spokesman for his campaign, sent a statement that is simply not true, although he may not have understood why at first. In an email, Briggs wrote that Sanders and his wife Jane “made public his federal and state income tax returns last year when he became a candidate for president and intends to do so again this year.”

I wrote back to Briggs repeatedly, explaining that a Form 1040 is not a tax return. Perhaps that was unnecessary, since Briggs has more than two decades of experience as a political reporter and publicist for various U.S. senators. More than two decades ago on C-SPAN, he displayed a nuanced understanding of legal issues.

That background raises difficult questions about Briggs’ responses, which i tried to explore despite his failure to answer follow-up questions. The Cruz and Kasich campaigns also ignored emails asking for their complete tax returns or an explanation of why only Form 1040s were released

To readers who think this sounds too harsh, I’d say that when Sanders holds himself out as a paragon — running a campaign built on the idea that he remains untainted by money from the rich and powerful — he should be expected to walk the talk.

Sanders set the standard here. I am holding him to the same measure of integrity that I have used to assess Bill and Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Steve Forbes, and numerous other politicians at the federal, state and local levels going back almost 50 years to my first investigative story.

Last fall, Sanders revised his 2012 and 2014 financial disclosures twice. His 2013 disclosure was revised three times. Sanders failed to disclose four mortgages, all of them at market interest rates, which raises a question about his judgment, since nothing appears improper except the failure to fully disclose.

Mark Lippman of Daily Kos was evidently the first to report the Vermont senator’s incomplete disclosures. He also noted that the value of Jane Sanders’ “retirement accounts appreciated in value from $285,000 in 2011 to $481,000 in 2014.” Nothing wrong there, by the way, though readers may find the 68.8 percent increase puzzling because Lippman failed to give context. The broad stock market rose 64 percent during that period, indicating the big gain was basically owed to stock market returns, plus about $400 a month in additional deposits to Ms. Sanders’ retirement portfolio.

Why Sanders would play games with his income taxes is a mystery. While he is much better off than most Americans, he is a man of modest means compared to Clinton, Cruz, and Trump. But his conduct raises a question politically. Is  he hiding something? Certainly Trump is, since the boastful billionaire probably pays close to zero in income taxes, as I have explained here, here and here.

The question to ask Sanders – as well as Cruz, Kasich, and Trump – is why they are hiding the information they supplied under penalty of perjury to the IRS as a true, complete, and accurate description of their income, deductions, and taxes.

And whatever you may think of Hillary Clinton, she deserves real props for more than two decades of being forthright and complete in disclosing her tax returns.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, April 1, 2016

April 2, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Tax Returns, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

%d bloggers like this: