Thursday, July 19, 2012

The significance of tax returns, or lack thereof, in the campaign cycle

I recall the first government official who ever showed me his income tax return – it was then-Gov. Jim Edgar.
EDGAR: Not Romney or Plummer

He wasn’t running for anything specifically that year. It was just his habit to let us see the return he filed by mid-April, and it was meant to reinforce the idea that he wasn’t all that different from the rest of us.

SERIOUSLY! I RECALL his returns as showing that while the Edgars had some miniscule financial investments, they weren’t wealthy. For all practical purposes, Edgar supported his family financially on the government salaries he was paid for the various electoral offices he held during his political career.

They weren’t bad salaries. So they lived well. But no more so than many other people.

Edgar always issued the returns so routinely that they ultimately became a non-story. Yet more evidence that Edgar wasn’t the most exciting man on Planet Earth. Or even to walk the halls of the Statehouse in Springfield.

Which is why it always amazes me when would-be government officials make a big deal out of refusing to disclose their incomes. They wind up making an issue out of what should be nothing.

WHEN THE INFORMATION comes out, it gets treated as though it is a major disclosure. If it never comes out, then we wind up thinking that there is some major secret being kept from the public.

It may turn out that the information amounts to a whole lot of nothing. But the candidates treat it as though it is a major something.

Yet every campaign cycle, we get some nitwit who is determined to think that he (or she, I suppose) is special, and that we shouldn’t have some interest in their personal connections.
ROMNEY: Returns becoming an issue

Which is what we gain from getting a look at those returns. Who do they have financial connections to? How do they live? Is this a person who gives a lot to charitable causes?

IF SO, WHICH causes?

It is personal information that we can relate to, because we all ultimately have to fill out those forms.

And while I don’t expect to see anyone running for office who files the 1040EZ, we do learn something from such information.

Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations are being attacked on this ground. He has only released limited details, and claims he doesn’t want more information about himself out there because he thinks opponent Barack Obama will merely have his staff pick through the information for details that can be used against him.

HE WENT SO far as to tell the National Review, “I’m simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort and lie about.”

My guess is that the Romney campaign wants all the distortion and lies to be told by themselves about Obama. Which when thought of that way makes Romney sound like a bully and a wimp!

Locally, we have someone else taking the same attitude. Remember Jason Plummer, the St. Louis-area guy who ran for lieutenant governor paired up with Republican William Brady?

He’s running for a seat in Congress from that part of Illinois that borders St. Louis, and he’s refusing to give up his returns. He claims they’re personal, although he released a statement that says he earns a $55,289 salary as vice president of the family-owned lumber company.

WHICH IF THAT’S all there is would be so much like many other people.
PLUMMER: Really none of our business?

Except that for people like Romney and Plummer, that isn’t all there is. They have business interests that allow them to use various exemptions.

The tales told about Romney are that he has used exemptions and tax breaks so effectively that he literally didn’t owe any federal income tax. Which is something that would make him very unusual, and reduce to rubble any claims he might try to make that he’s just a common guy, compared to “elitist” Obama.

It’s probably the same situation with regard to Plummer. The family business that he has ties to likely make him independently wealthy aside from his actual salary that he reports to the IRS. It’s a shame that he, and Romney for that matter, feels compelled to treat it as a dirty little secret.


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