Tax Returns Aren't Enough

The information in President Trump's returns wouldn't be enough to quell concerns about his finances.

June 26, 2017

Cross-posted from U.S. News & World Report

Friday's release of President Donald Trump's new ethics report – showing, among other things, that he made an extra $7 million this year off Mar-a-Lago, his private Palm Beach club whose initiation fee he doubled after being elected and which has since become a prime venue for access to the president and his staff – has rekindled calls for the president to release his personal tax returns. According to one commentator, "[f]inancial disclosures are simply no substitute for tax returns when it comes to understanding someone's financial standing and various commitments." The president and his defenders, on the other hand, have long countered that the returns would be nothing more than a "distraction." So who is right?

Neither, as we argue in a new Brennan Center paper. While the president is wrong to suggest the public would gain no valuable information from seeing his personal returns, those hoping they might reveal anything like a complete picture of his financial dealings – let alone bombshells related to, say, Russia – are almost certain to be disappointed.

Let's start with the basics: tax returns exist for people to pay taxes, not disclose their finances. Do you want to understand who the president has done business with and to whom he owes money? How big his debts are? Who has paid him? His personal returns are unlikely to fully answer these questions.

That is not to say that they wouldn't show other important information, such as how much he paid in federal taxes, and how much he claimed in itemized deductions for things like charity.

Read the full story at U.S. News & World Report