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Analysis

Tax Returns Aren’t Enough

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

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