Politico // Andy Barr
Posted at 2:55 PM EDT
Donald Trump says he will release his tax returns — when President Barack Obama coughs up his birth certificate, that is — but the other potential 2012 candidates aren’t committing to that much financial disclosure.
A POLITICO survey of the major GOP hopefuls found that none are promising to making their tax returns public, as then-candidate Obama did in 2008.
While the presidential candidates are required to file financial disclosure forms by May 15th of this year or within 30 days of announcing their candidacy — which list sources of income and assets held, as well as ballpark figures of the value of those assets and income — there is no such legal requirement that any tax returns see the light of day.
In a field filled with millionaires — including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and Haley Barbour — the tax documents could provide interesting fodder for Democrats and the press.
“There are too many unanswered questions surrounding the provenance of the significant income most of the candidates in the Republican field are taking in — and the taxes they paid or didn’t pay on that income — for them not to release their returns to public scrutiny,” said a senior Democratic strategist.
John McCain Republican released his 2006 and 2007 tax filings after he’d won the Republican nomination, but he didn’t disclose the separate tax filings of his wealthy beer heiress wife.
The financial disclosure forms Mitt Romney filed during his 2008 presidential run showed the former Massachusetts governor was worth as much $250 million at the time. But Romney has never released any tax returns — neither during his campaigns for president and Senate nor his time as governor — and would not commit to doing so this time around.
“He’ll make all the financial disclosure that is required by law. Going further than that will be an issue for us to consider if and when he becomes a formally declared candidate,” said Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.
Other Republican camps declined to comment or told POLITICO the same. In addition to Romney, POLITICO reached out to representatives of Palin, Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, Huntsman, Barbour and Gingrich.
There is, of course, little incentive for a presidential candidate to open themselves up to further scrutiny — or mockery — by voluntarily releasing their tax documents.
Sarah Palin made public her 2006 and 2007 tax returns while campaigning as McCain’s vice presidential nominee after significant prodding from the Obama camp. And though the disclosure did not provide any glaring headline material, it did prompt further questions about state-approved per diems totaling $17,000 — as well as other questions about whether she properly paid taxes on services she received as governor.
Huckabee meanwhile, was once a crusader for public officials to release their tax returns, saying “the single most effective way for the public to be assured of the financial integrity of a candidate is for personal tax returns to be released.” Backing up his position in 1997, Huckabee released tax information going back to 1981.
But Huckabee was dogged during his time as governor by discrepancies between the 15 years of tax returns he provided and the financial disclosure returns he filed. Under pressure from barraging Democrats and a critical press corps, Huckabee ended up having to file amended returns for 1994 and 1994.
And after experiencing the political consequences of disclosing his tax returns, Huckabee told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2001 that he regretted having provided the press and his political enemies that kind detailed information.
“I was naïve enough to think that if I provide everything beyond what is legally required that I would be applauded,” Huckabee said at the time. “What I found was all I did was hand over fodder for people in the print media and political opponents who like to file ethics complaints.”
Tax returns also might reveal how much Huntsman — whose financial disclosure ahead becoming ambassador to China put his net worth between $15 and $90 million — collects from a blind trust created with the proceeds from his sale of shares in the publicly traded company founded by his father. A spokesman for Horizon PAC, the campaign-in-waiting started by Huntsman’s supporters, did not return a request for comment.
The source of Haley Barbour’s total income too is somewhat unclear, as he collects much of his funds from a blind trust that handles interest and profit sharing from his stake in BGR, the lobbying firm he founded.
Barbour’s spokesman Jim Dyke told POLITICO that Barbour is prepared to make the required financial disclosures, but did not specifically say the Mississippi governor would be providing copies of his tax return when asked. “If he decides to run, there will certainly be disclosure at the appropriate time,” Dyke said.