The Tax Return Conundrum

A campaign blog.
March 7 2008 11:50 AM

The Tax Return Conundrum

Responding to calls for Hillary Clinton to release her tax returns, the campaign has said it will release them "on or around" April 15. But they still haven’t answered the central question: Why not release them now?

"I'm a little busy right now," Clinton said two weeks ago, but since then hasn’t elaborated on the campaign’s rationale.  

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Naturally, the Obama camp has piled on, releasing a memo a couple days ago asking, "What does Clinton have to hide?" (Obama has released his tax returns since 2004.) They point out that during her 2000 Senate campaign, Clinton attacked her opponent Rick Lazio for not releasing his own tax returns.

Today in a conference call, Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson called the difference between Clinton now and Lazio then "night and day." About 20 years of Clinton’s tax returns—from 1980 to 2000—are on the public record, he said, whereas Lazio had released none of his.

Of course, it’s not those 20 years people are interested in. It’s the post-presidential years, when the business dealings of Clinton and her husband haven’t undergone as much scrutiny. If there’s anything juicy in the financial documents, it would have to do with whether the Clintons used tax shelters to reduce their tax bill—something she has opposed for large corporations—as well as income from stocks and how much they gave to charity.  

So if there’s nothing damning in the papers, why not release them now? And if there is, wouldn’t Clinton be better off confronting it now than on April 15, a week before the must-win (and probably will-win) Pennsylvania primary? Perhaps that’s too quick a turnaround for reporters to fully vet the papers, in which case the stalling might work, but you can be sure Obama’s oppo folks will be pulling all-nighters. As it is, Clinton’s stonewalling just feeds Obama’s case about her lack of transparency.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.