Speaking of Taxes…

Bernie also faces disclosure pressures.

Donald Trump isn’t the only politician who is facing political pressure over release of tax returns. As ABC News reports: Bernie Sanders still hasn’t released his tax returns, despite pledge.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of several front-runners early in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, has yet to make his tax returns public, despite promising to do so “soon” at a CNN town hall in February.

“It just was a mechanical issue,” he said at the time. “We don’t have accountants at home. My wife does most of it. And we will get that stuff out.”

The issue is under new scrutiny in the 2020 cycle, after then-candidate Trump refused to release his returns in 2016, claiming he was under audit.

This has long struck me as an odd stance, given the political pressure on Trump to release his returns (pressure that has become a bit more intense this week, as James Joyner noted).

Ryan Grim at The Intercept has a theory: The Reluctance of Bernie Sanders to Release His Damn Tax Returns Is Part of a Bigger Issue:

Sanders just released his damn tax returns already?

It’s a question that’s something of a Rorschach test for Democratic primary voters. For veterans of the great war of 2016, who’ve been in the trenches battling Sanders for years, it’s exhibit A of his hypocrisy, evidence of a man who claims the moral high ground but is hiding something from the public — perhaps something disqualifyingly corrupt.

[…]

The truth, though, is likely much simpler: By failing to release his tax returns despite repeated promises to do so any minute now, Sanders is being the stubborn curmudgeon he’s always been.

Perhaps. I suppose one can argue that this stuff is trivial and Sanders thinks we should focus on the non-trivial and he is being stubborn to prove it. This strikes me, however, as overly charitable. Or, at least, that it shows some pretty poor political skills. If his returns are trivial (i.e., they match his financial disclosures) then getting them out takes this issue off the table and puts more pressure on Trump, the man Sanders wants to run against in 2020. If the tax returns have something that needs explaining, then get it over with, already.

To that point, Grim notes:

Sanders refuses to engage with things that annoy him. But he is no longer a protest candidate and can no longer escape the old adage that you may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you. He’s running not to make a statement or drag the conversation to the left, but to be the leader of the most powerful country in the history of the world and to rescue it from its collision course with a dystopian future. People rightly want to know whether he has his act together enough to do that, particularly as they experience life under the presidency of a man who clearly does not.

Sanders’s refusal to bend on any issue, no matter how minor, may be endearing to his most passionate supporters, but he’s doing both them and the country a disservice. An unbending approach to minutiae harms not only him, but his movement — and begins to look selfish and entitled. A million people have raised their hands to volunteer to make Sanders president. They deserve more from him.

This strikes me as correct. Sanders did say on The Daily Show this week that we would be releasing ten years of returns “soon” and Grim interprets the exchange to mean April 15th, although other media outlets took a more nebulous interpretation of the promise.

I am to the point where I think we need to move the long-standing norm (which Trump broke) of tax disclosures by presidential candidates to the level of a legal requirement to do so. If you want to be the most powerful person in the country, if not the world, then transparency on these issues is well warranted.

FILED UNDER: Bernie Sanders, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    Curmudgeon, my ass. If he’s too rigid to deal with this he’s not fit for office. He’s either hiding something or he’s edging into senility, one of the two is true, neither recommends Bernie.

    (Now I’ll wait for Ben Wolf to come along and denounce everyone as a racist, Nazi, woman-hater, fascist, capitalist running dog, parasite, etc… because we don’t worship at the Bernie altar.)

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  2. Kit says:

    I am to the point where I think we need to move the long-standing norm (which Trump broke) of tax disclosures by presidential candidates to the level of a legal requirement

    Sure. But assuming that you can get this passed, I’d like to attach a couple of extra riders:
    1) this applies to all federal office holders;
    2) it extends to ten years after leaving office.

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  3. @Michael Reynolds:

    Curmudgeon, my ass. If he’s too rigid to deal with this he’s not fit for office.

    I can’t disagree.

    I’ll wait for Ben Wolf to come along

    Ben is no longer invited to the party.

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  4. Kathy says:

    A Democratic* obstinate know-it-all who can’t take criticism, or who can’t even handle being questioned, won’t be much different from the current jerk sitting in the Oval Office pretending to be the president.

    Bernie’s political experience would only make things worse.

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  5. CSK says:

    OT: Fritz Hollings has died.

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  6. de stijl says:

    No matter his reasons, it looks bad and feels bad.

    You’d think his PR folks would disabuse him of this action, but he chose not to.

    I didn’t care until he chose not to share, but now I’m super curious.

    Bernie, what are you hiding?

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  7. MarkedMan says:

    I’m just going to reappear what I’ve been saying since 2016. Here’s one from 3 months ago:

    What do you call it when there is an elephant in the room, and people really aren’t noticing it? Bernie has real, serious tax return problems. He played the disheveled old professor long enough that he didn’t get caught out in 2016 but that isn’t going to fly this time. The fact that he is going for the Democratic nod without coming clean ranks up there with what John Edwards did.

    And I should add that he’s been using the “no accountants” and “my wife does the taxes” routine since 2016 too.

    Somethings rotten

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  8. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy:

    A Democratic* obstinate know-it-all who can’t take criticism, or who can’t even handle being questioned, won’t be much different from the current jerk sitting in the Oval Office pretending to be the president.

    The Democrats wouldn’t give Bernie the unrelenting cover that Republicans give Trump, and Bernie’s policies would be dramatically less worse than Trump’s. He may not be any more effective than Trump, but he would be ineffectively striving in a better direction.

    They share some of the same worst character flaws, and somehow they attract some of the same type of divorced-from-reality supporters that fall into a personality cult*, but they are worlds apart in where that would leave them.

    *: We don’t have BetoBros, BidenBros, ButtigiegBros or BookerBros… I really don’t quite get why some Bernie supports get unhinged. Bernie isn’t out there saying “everyone else is lying to you, I am your only chance”, and it isn’t about race (the PUMA folks who supported Clinton in 2008, because they didn’t want that n-clang in the White House), so I just don’t get it.

    The Buttigieg Boom/Boomlet (we don’t know how, when or if it will end) has a bit of that personality cult, but only because he still seems too good to be true, and because he’s light on what he hopes to accomplish (it’s early in his campaign). But, we don’t see anyone saying “Buttigieg is our only hope to defeat Trump because no one else can pontificate about the role of faith in forming progressive values and how the writings James Joyce affect middle class middle America.” They just pass along stories of the genuinely surprising and incredible things he has done (taught himself Norwegian to read a book, adopted a one eyed dog, figured out how to get people to pronounce his name without just stumbling and stuttering into gibberish)

    (I like Buttigieg. I think he has a lot to contribute. I have no idea whether his personality will resonate with “normal” people across America)

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  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Gustopher:

    We have BernieBros for the same reason we have TrumpBros: there’s an active foreign influence operation specifically recruiting them.

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  10. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    That’s a bold statement.

    there’s an active foreign influence operation specifically recruiting them.

    Not a fan of BernieBros, myself, but to assert that you are going to have to prove that.

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  11. de stijl says:

    This is rank speculation at this point, but I would not be surprised if Buttigieg surges and is the eventual nominee.

    He seems smart and he dealt with the “all lives matter” kerfuffle concisely and believably (at that time I was under-informed and assumed that “all lives matter” meant what it said rather than being a dickish poke-in-the-eye to “black lives matter” and I apologize for missing that and being taken in by that.)

    Actually, he could spin that episode as to how good, well meaning people can be tricked into backing bad actors.

    This guy could easily be the D nominee.

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  12. de stijl says:

    Buttigieg also presents as a mensch. And in the Trump era that’s a good trait for people pre-disposed against voting for Trump and wants to rebuke him.

    Too early to predict, but Butttigieg could easily break through.

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  13. Gustopher says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I question your claim, but even assuming it is true, there still has to be something there for the Russians to exploit.

    No Russian campaign is going to make a significant number of people love Buttigieg and think there is no difference between Warren and Trump, and that anyone who can’t see that is a fool.

    (Although, we do have NPR, which has been pushing a myth of meritocracy forever, so a certain segment of America will perk up their ears at phrases like “Rhodes scholar”, “speaks Norwegian”, “Midwest”, “Faith from the left”, etc. David Brooks wrote glowingly about Buttigieg for instance. All that’s missing is Buttigieg going on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”… I totally fall for all of that.)

    What I don’t understand is what it is about Bernie that inspires the closing of the mind. It’s usually racism or conspiracy theories, and Bernie doesn’t really traffic in either. A little on DNC conspiracy theory, but not that much.

    Yes, some of the anti-Clinton backlash in 2008 was sexism, but many of the candidates this time out have male genitalia.

    And, yes, Bernie is tone deaf on race. But not actively hostile. There’s a joke: “What do you call a black man in Vermont?” “Bob. There’s just one. Nice guy.” That’s Bernie on race (and Howard Dean)

    He’s not talking about lizard people, and his views aren’t so out there that they aren’t reflected in the Democratic Party — Warren and AOC are close.

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  14. de stijl says:

    Whoever the eventual D nominee is going to be, they will have zero issues around competence or knowledge or experience or credentials, or (forbid) sexual assault, because Trump negated all of those arguments.

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  15. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: There’s an anecdote about Buttigieg’s first date with his future husband. Chasten asks if he plays any musical instruments, and Pete explains that he just sat in with the philharmonic.

    I think that pretty much captures Buttigieg at this moment. Surprisingly, over-the-top good first date. But, there’s a lot to know still.

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  16. de stijl says:

    Okay, we fuck up a lot of things and as an American it pains me, as a whole, sometimes we make really bad decisions.

    In 2004 we voted overwhelmingly to approve a bunch of state constitutional amendments in the old confederacy to ban all the gayness. (boo!)

    Ten years later they were all overturned on constitutional grounds and rendered moot and N/A. (yeah!)

    Getting there in the end is better than not getting there at all. Getting there sooner is better still.

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  17. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl:

    He seems smart and he dealt with the “all lives matter” kerfuffle concisely and believably (at that time I was under-informed and assumed that “all lives matter” meant what it said rather than being a dickish poke-in-the-eye to “black lives matter” and I apologize for missing that and being taken in by that.)

    Ugh. I didn’t hear about this until you mentioned it; I had to look it up on Google. But it turns out to be less than meets the eye.

    When Martin O’Malley said “all lives matter” in 2015, it was not an offhanded use of the phase; he was directly addressing BLM. Being originally from Baltimore, I have an intense dislike for O’Malley going back years, and when he made this remark I had to roll my eyes; it was O’Malley being O’Malley.

    But if you look at Mayor Pete’s full speech, the phrase appears a lot more casual in context, not as a clueless white-boy response to BLM. It could be read as a dogwhistle I suppose, but I’m willing to give him a pass if nothing else surfaces along these lines.

    A couple of weeks ago Trevor Noah suggested that Buttigieg is too good to be true, to the point that it’s almost suspicious: there have to be some skeletons in his closet. No candidate is perfect, there will always be something to complain about, some chinks in their armor. And I have a dreaded feeling the Democratic Party is on the verge of eating itself alive, constantly pointing out the flaws (real and perceived) of any candidate who comes along, so that whoever ends up limping across the finish line will be an easy target because of their failure to live up to some standard that nobody’s imposing on the Orangefuhrer.

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  18. Stormy Dragon says:

    @de stijl:

    Not a fan of BernieBros, myself, but to assert that you are going to have to prove that.

    @Gustopher:

    I question your claim

    Indictment: Russians also tried to help Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein presidential campaigns

    Evidence against Manafort includes emails to Bernie’s top strategist

    How The Russian Social Media Effort Boosted Bernie

    Now Bernie may just be a useful idiot, but ultimately doesn’t matter: Russia was backing his campaign during 2016 as part of the broader effort to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president, and there’s no reason to believe that strategy won’t continue into 2020.

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  19. Stormy Dragon says:

    Can someone please free my comment from moderation?

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  20. Kylopod says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Can someone please free my comment from moderation?

    I guess we can no longer put three links into a comment. Maybe it counted your replies-to-users as links.

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  21. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod:

    It always does: if you reply to it counts as a link (which is BS, but it’s baked in so we live with it.)

    That thing I did with your name above? That counts as a link.

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  22. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Indictment: Russians also tried to help Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein presidential campaigns

    You claimed the Russians were recruiting Bernie Bros, which I took as individuals.

    Yo, comrade! Comrade, yo! Please be going to political meeting of Mr. Sanders for Vermont in your city. We will produce 1000 kopecks for you please do this.

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  23. de stijl says:

    I shocked! So fucking shocked! How could it possibly be that Jill Stein (inadvertently or advertently – that’s not a real word) was a Russian stooge??!? My belief in the sanctity of the election process is profoundly altered!!1!

    Oh yeah, there were all those pics from the RT gig where she and Flynn were just pallin’ about with Putin. Good times. Just friends commingling – nothing to see here, please move along.

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  24. Stormy Dragon says:

    @de stijl:

    Yo, comrade! Comrade, yo! Please be going to political meeting of Mr. Sanders for Vermont in your city. We will produce 1000 kopecks for you please do this.

    Well duh. When the Russians are trying to recruit someone they don’t just come out and say “Hey, I’m a Russian agent. Want to help me undermine your country?”

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  25. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod:

    “All lives matter” sounds cool and I could get behind that statement myself, unless I knew it was a super shitty thing said by people who intentionally used it as a cudgel against “black lives matter”. Especially during the Ferguson demonstrations. Assholes!

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  26. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    It’s seen as bad form to laugh at your own joke, but the “Yo, comrade!” bit makes me giggle hard.

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  27. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Trying to help, helping, and accepting help are three very different things

    I doubt Stein was able to discern it at the time, but I concur that she was likely a clueless, inadvertent Russian stooge.

    Whereas Bernie was doing his own thing and the Russians wanted him to continue to do the same. Those are very different. Acting in the way they want you to and acting in a way because they want you to are very different things. Real vs. bought. Bernie was not my person, but he wasn’t bought by the Russians nor did he act in their interest because he was bought.

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  28. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    1000 kopecks is worth something like .04 US cents. Or US$15.3 dollars. Somewhere between the two.

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  29. Stormy Dragon says:

    @de stijl:

    I think the problem here is that you’re making faulty assumptions:
    1. That someone being recruited means they’re only pretending to believe something for money
    2. That someone being recruited knows they’re being recruited

    In the case of Bernie Bros, the Russians make a John Smith #1234 twitter account, and then post messages where they expect to find other Sanders supporters about “the DNC is trying to force people to vote for Hillary and how we need to stand up to them and show we won’t put up with this!” The gradually get people to focus less and less on Sanders policies and more and more on how the DNC is the enemy. Pretty soon they’re not voting or even voting for Trump out of spite. And they also start spreading the same “the DNC is the enemy message” to other Sanders supporters. Pretty soon they’re doing it all by themselves without the Russians having to further instigate it, at which point John Smith #1234 can disappear.

    That’s what I mean by recruiting: they’re getting these people to independently and voluntarily assist Russian goals, even though the recruited people are entirely sincere and have no idea what they’re actually doing.

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