Hillary Clinton released her 2015 tax returns on Friday as did her running mate, Tim Kaine. According to these records Clinton, along with former president and current husband, Bill, showed an adjusted gross income of $10.6 million in 2015, while Kaine reported income of $313,441. I don’t care. And I’m struggling to come up with reasons as to why I should care about candidate tax returns.
Some argue it’s simply tradition. Since the early 1970s, however, most presidents have chosen to release their returns publicly. That’s nice of them. It can be political. One candidate releasing their returns pressures the other candidate to do the same. Although it’s private information that the candidates are under no obligation to release, perhaps it’s information that the public has a right to know. Or at least cares about seeing. Other reasons given are potential conflicts of interest, charitable donations and to see if the candidates “really are like us”, especially in terms of tax rate. This particular presidential election many want to see if Donald Trump is being truthful regarding his past and current wealth.
But here’s the thing: each of these things is easily addressed without access to candidates’ tax returns. It doesn’t matter if candidates have done so “historically” . Especially when that history is about 40 out of over 200 years of presidential elections. What did we do before the early 1970s? Also, if it’s really such an expectation now why would one candidate releasing their returns put undue pressure on the other candidate to release theirs? Where’s the political advantage?
And the public has no right to know. They don’t even need tax returns to gain much of the information. Yes, candidates have conflicts of interest. These are brought up by both sides, true or not, even without the returns. No, the candidates aren’t “like us”. They’re rich and politicians. If they are rich maybe that’s why it matters to people if and how much the candidates give to charity. Those have more should give more. Which isn’t always the case. Except there are numerous and varying reasons for why people do or do not give to charity. Many of these have nothing to do with ability or capacity to be president. Similarly, many will argue that Trump’s wealth could be a signifier of his ability in business and to negotiate, as he himself argues. Therefore, his tax returns are important in order to gauge his business and negotiating acumen. Except neither of those things has anything to do with his ability or capacity to be president.
Unless tax returns unveil something untoward I have no interest because they hold no electoral value. It’s a safe assumption nothing untoward would come out of them because if that potential existed, at all, why would they be released? That severe error in judgment would hold electoral value.