The Bernie Sanders tax fiasco

Presumably a pro-tax protester, 2010

Presumably a pro-tax protester, 2010

Why hasn’t Bernie Sanders released his tax returns for prior years? That’s the question an increasing number of people are asking. First, Sanders answered, “My wife does our tax returns. We have been a little busy lately.” Then, Sanders falsely claimed that “Of course, we have released them in the past.” On Monday, Bernie’s wife Jane gave an interview with Mark Halperin of Bloomberg TV‘s “With All Due Respect” that was beyond embarrassing on the Sanders’ taxes issue. Jane Sanders said, in response to various questions by Halperin: “I have to go back and find them,” “We haven’t been home for a month,” “When they’re due, I would expect them to come out,” “They’ve [the Clintons] been in office all these years, they have done it,” etc. In reaction to all of these delays and excuses by the Sanders, folks are starting to say the following things:

“This is gross incompetence at best.”
Every presidential candidate knows or should know that they have to release prior years’ taxes to the public as a matter of course. This has been routine since at least 1967, when candidate George Romney was asked for his 1040 Form and released 12 years’ worth. Indeed, this was a big issue for his son Willard Mitt Romney in the last presidential election. Moreover, Bernie Sanders has senior staffers such as Tad Devine (hired way back in November 2014) who have run presidential campaigns and who know better. And Sanders himself is taking time off the campaign trail just before the New York primary to travel to Vatican City for an obscure scholarly conference. So either Bernie Sanders and his entire staff are asleep at the switch, or they are grossly negligent in letting the tax returns go unpublished for all this time. It looks bad either way.

“What is Bernie Sanders hiding?”
Sanders’ failure to release his tax returns has naturally led to suspicions and speculation. On this count, there are at least two views. The harsher view is that there are some shenanigans regarding outside income (such as rental income), hefty deductions, etc., or maybe embarrassingly low charitable contributions, which have been an issue for Sanders in the past. The milder view is that, while there is not likely anything illegal or nefarious in the Sanders’ tax returns, they demonstrate that he is a wealthy member of the 1 Percent, which blows up much of his narrative about being Mr. Poverty and Mr. Purity. As one publication which examined Sanders’ partial 2014 tax filing proclaimed, TAX FORMS: Reports Indicate Bernie Sanders is a Millionaire with Three Homes.”

Being a “millionaire” makes Sanders one of his own favorite targets. Moreover, Sanders’ tax returns would likely indicate that he has money invested with “Wall Street,” another one of his favorite punching bags. Perhaps most damaging of all, Sanders’ tax information would also lump Sanders together with Hillary Clinton as a member of the elite.

“Sanders won’t ever release his taxes.”
Folks in this camp believe that Sanders is just going to run out the clock, especially if he loses the New York primary on April 19, and then most or all of the Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and Rhode Island primaries on April 26, making his path to the Democratic Party nomination all but mathematically impossible. People who have had this reaction are no doubt watching for a sincere effort by Bernie Sanders to comply with the tax returns request. That will tell them a lot about what he thinks are his own realistic chances for victory in the Democratic Party primary contest.

Photo by Martha Soukup, used under Creative Commons license.

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