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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

“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

   

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