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Are Presidential Candidates Legally Required To Release Their Tax Returns?

August 19, 2016

Candidates Are Not Legally Required to Release Tax Returns

No. There is no legal requirement of any kind that presidential candidates release tax returns from any year. Indeed, there is a strict, strong constitutional right to privacy for all tax returns. Thus, tax returns can be released by an individual taxpayer, but cannot released by the IRS to the public. However, one Senator has proposed legislation requiring presidential candidates to release tax returns.

Despite the lack of legal requirement, for the last thirty years, almost all presidential and vice presidential candidates have released reams of their personal tax returns. Of 34 past presidential and vice presidential candidates, only seven — Brown, Buchanan, Huckabee, Forbes, Giuliani, Lugar, Nader — declined to release personal tax returns. Hillary Clinton has released her tax returns for years 2007 to 2014 showing that the Clintons paid more than $43 million in taxes over that period. For his part, Donald Trump has said that the tax rate he pays is “none of your business” and “I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.”

Are Presidential Candidates Legally Required to Reveal Any Financial Information?

Yes! Presidential candidates are legally required to file a “Personal Financial Disclosure” with the Federal Election Commission. But personal tax returns reveal different and important information, such as taxes paid and tax rate, deductions and credits claimed, charitable donations, debts claimed, offshore assets, and so on.

Trump has filed a legally required 104-page “Personal Financial Disclosure” with the Federal Election Commission. It contains general lists of investments in more than 550 different entities, and income from hundreds of different sources. However, unlike a tax return, this form does not show a person’s annual income and is not sworn to be accurate under penalty of perjury.

If It’s Not Legally Required Why Do Candidates Release Their Tax Returns Anyway?

Because it’s simply expected. Every major presidential candidate in the modern era has done so. Even Richard Nixon released his tax returns while he was being audited. Most voters believe they have a right to know how much a candidate pays in taxes, gives to charities, and claims in credits and deductions.

Are There Legal Reasons Why Donald Trump Hasn’t Released His Tax Returns?

In late March, Donald Trump released a letter from his tax attorneys and accountants attesting to the fact that all of his tax returns from 2009 forward are currently being audited by the IRS.

At a televised debate on February 25, 2016, Trump said, “I will absolutely give my return, but I’m being audited now for two or three [years' worth] now so I can’t,” he continued. However, there is no legal restriction preventing auditees from releasing tax returns.

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Billionaire Mark Cuban tweeted a suggestion that the reason Trump hadn’t releasing his tax returns was that Trump might be embarrassed that the Clintons actually “made more” money than him. Others speculate that the tax returns would reveal how little Trump has given to charity, in contrast to his “huge” claim that he donated more than $100 million to charity over the course of the campaign. Many also believe it’s because there are concerning ties between Trump and the Russian government, which his tax returns might reveal. The Washington Post collected all the facts known so far about Trump’s taxes, including that he apparently paid little or no federal taxes in several years. Mark Sanford, the Republican former governor of South Carolina, has urged Trump to release his tax returns.

What do you think? Should the law require that all presidential candidates release their tax returns? Does a candidate’s refusal to release tax returns affect your view of them?

Posted by Mary Mock at 3:11 am - 21 comments
  • Bebe parker

    No and no


    Julian E. Zelizer, who appeared on CNN on Sunday, Jan 22, stated otherwise — which is what prompted me to Google whether indeed it is a legal requirement for now-President Trump to release his tax return. Prof. Zeilzer exclaimed “it’s the law” on the heels of comments made by other CNN panel members about the issue of Trump’s refusal (“broken promise”) to release his tax returns. While the media is busy roasting Trump’s press secretary for lying to the media about Inauguration attendance levels, the major broadcasters consistently allow people to sit on their panels who perpetuate information that is not properly fact checked because it is “off the cuff”. With the amount of punditry passing for “news”, it’s little surprise President Trump is so jaded about mainstream media. When you have Ivy League professors who go unchecked on national TV for spreading misinformation about what is and is not a legal requirement of a sitting president, there’s legitimate room for criticism of that media.

    • Allie


  • Isla Hendricks

    In answer to your two questions…..NO and NO.

  • David Joe Hunter

    YES and YES

    • Taz_man

      Let us see your TR

      • Allie

        Lol. Exactly, Taz.

  • Saundra Buchanan

    The reason I say YES to both questions is this…..if a candidate has some kind of financial ties to a country that is our enemy of some sort or had financial dealings with the mafia, etc., I would want to know and that would change my view of them.

    • Allie

      All that is covered prior to taking office or a cabinet position.
      PS: you should have made demands on the Clintons and Obama, you know, that one who gave billions of TAXPAYERS’ money to HIS FOREIGN pals.

      • Saundra Buchanan

        I did!

  • Joe Sinagra

    Congress should abide by the same rules on tax returns, not just the president . . . as they would have the same ability of some kind of financial ties to a country. Financial Disclosure would show more data than a tax return. There currently is no law that states a president must show their tax returns.

    Once in office, members of Congress enjoy access to connections and information they can use to increase their wealth, in ways that are unparalleled in the private sector. And once politicians leave office, their connections allow them to profit even further. As far as foreign interests . . . over 43 percent of all members of Congress took lobbying jobs after leaving Congress, landing positions with an average annual salary of $2 million.

    Members of Congress are subject to current insider trading laws. However, current insider trading laws do not apply to nonpublic information about current or upcoming congressional . . . because members of Congress aren’t technically obligated to keep that information confidential.

    Congressmen can get away with the type of insider trading that would send Martha Stewart to prison. They go into hearings and confidential meetings with business interests, understanding new legislation is going to come out next week, and are free to trade on that information.

    If you’re going to pass a bill that requires a POTUS to show his returns, Congress should be accountable to that same requirement.

  • Isabella Zuralski-Yeager

    NO and YES. No because there is no legal requirement. YES because of simple honesty.

    • Allie

      The man doesn’t take a salary. He is the first president who is actually trying to implement the agenda he ran on, and he is AN AMERICAN WHO HAS AMERICA’S BEST INTERESTS AT HEART. Hell, over half of the USA still doesn’t believe Obamacare a citizen, think he’s Muslim, &a Michelle is using some guy’s social security # from 1910 or so! Still want to discuss HONESTY?
      (Haven’t gotten to the Clintons. Lol)

  • Tiffney Massey

    Simple fact is that the President of the United States answers to “The People”. If “The People” wishes to see his tax returns to ensure he is telling them the truth; i.e. being honest I think the President should be required to release the returns. With there being suspicious ties of multiple campaign officials to Russia and Turkey and with the money he is spending not only on vacations but on bombing countries too I think that it is only right to see if he has spent himself into debt and just ran for this job to spend more money that is not his. Trump’s tax returns will determine whether he is impeached or not and I think that has a lot to do with why he refuses to release them.

    • Jennie

      Impeached? You think that the tax returns that he is not legally bound to provide will end up impeaching him? That’s wishful thinking, Snowflake. You guys just cannot get over that a republican won. And won’t for the next 3.5 years. Will Hillary then be carried into the White House (skirting the law that makes Mike Pence President) by throngs of people who drank the democratic kool aid?

      • Allie

        Exactly, Jennie.

    • Allie

      Malarkey. Get your information in order.
      Oh, and my comments to Saundra Buchanan in the “P. S.” Section are also for you.

  • Tis Da Boss

    Absolutely. And if I were running for President you bet your ass I would. It’s the right of the American public that the President be as transparent as possible so we can trust him or her. He’s a coward and clearly has something to hide.

    • Allie

      Wrong. Financial Disclosures are required. Trump has submitted that. An individual’s tax information is his own. Period.
      PS: the man isn’t taking a salary, for goodness sake!

  • Allie

    No and No!!!!!

  • Scorned

    Funny how States and Federal representatives are sponsoring bills to require tax return release, but no one has even brought up and pushed for the public release/proof of citizenship as part of the vetting process to hold any Government position that is required to be met, Constitutionally. At state and federal levels.

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