NewsFlash: Presidential Transparency: Beyond Tax Returns

June 21, 2017

The release last Friday of President Trump’s latest financial disclosure report raised as many questions as it answered, and triggered renewed calls for the President to release his personal tax returns. Lost in the controversy over his refusal to do so, however, is the question of what the returns would actually tell us. A new paper from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Presidential Transparency: Beyond Tax Returns, delves into this question.

Based on a detailed examination of IRS rules and consultations with tax law experts, the paper concludes that President Trump’s tax returns would likely reveal some important information, but – much like his financial disclosure report – would almost certainly not provide a complete picture of his finances. Most importantly, no compilation of returns is likely to reflect all of the President’s original sources of income, major creditors, or key business partners. This information is crucial to determining the extent of his conflicts of interest and other ethical violations. The best way to secure it would be to amend the asset and income disclosure requirements to which high-ranking federal officials and candidates are already subject under the federal Ethics in Government Act. The paper puts forward several specific proposals for doing so

 “At bottom,” the authors write, “tax returns are simply not an ideal mechanism for transparency.” While it still makes sense for the President to disclose his returns so that the public can see that he is paying his fair share in taxes, it is even more important to strengthen the disclosure requirements in federal ethics law to “provide a lasting safeguard for the integrity of our government.”

Read the full report, Presidential Transparency: Beyond Tax Returns.

Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on Money in Politics.

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