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Why Reporters Want to See Candidates' Tax Returns

Donald Trump has so far refused to release his tax returns, documents journalists say are crucial to getting a true financial picture of a candidate. (MoneyBlogNews/Flickr)
Donald Trump has so far refused to release his tax returns, documents journalists say are crucial to getting a true financial picture of a candidate. (MoneyBlogNews/Flickr)
August 1, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.V. -- Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has so far refused to release his tax returns. But what could be learned if he did?

Tax forms are one of the best ways to answer some of the most important questions about any candidate, not just Trump, said Mark Horvit, executive director of the nonpartisan group Investigative Reporters and Editors.

"Who has influence over them or who they have influence over - where their financial interests lie,” Horvit said, “and when you look at whether they tend to favor certain things that could potentially directly benefit their income."

Horvit said pushing to see Trump's returns isn't a partisan attack. When someone is wealthy and has a number of different income streams, he said, journalists and researchers need those documents to provide the public with a clear financial portrait.

Trump, for his part, insists there's nothing to see in his tax returns, and has said he'll release them as soon as he is done being audited.

According to Horvit, one of the primary areas of interest in a candidate's tax return is the tax rate they pay. While that's hardly the only thing to see, he said it is important, since the people in office set the tax rates.

"They're in a position to make citizens pay money for government,” Horvit said. “So I think it's a fair question to ask, 'Are they themselves paying their fair share to the government?'"

Trump released a public disclosure form describing his finances in general terms. Horvit said that's a poor substitute as disclosures are less detailed and often less binding legally than a tax return. He said he doesn't buy Trump's argument that he can't release his tax forms because he's being audited.

"It's a little bit hard to understand where he's coming from on that,” Horvit said. "But if there's a real argument to be made there, then how about the most recent year's tax return - last year's, I suppose - for which everything's finished?"

Horvit’s group - Investigative Reporters and Editors - is a professional organization whose mission is to improve investigative journalism. Its website also houses what Horvit called the Document Cloud: a space where a candidate could release documents to the public without having to go through a potentially biased news organization.

To learn more, visit ire.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV