You paid your income taxes this week, if not earlier. Wouldn’t you like to know whether your president and governor paid theirs? And whether the sources of their wealth have left them ethically compromised at your expense?
Both Gov. Matt Bevin and President Donald Trump promised to release their tax returns if elected. They lied. So far, you have let them get away with it.
In tweets and interviews with fawning talk-show hosts, Trump and Bevin have insisted that this is a non-issue, that it’s only about politics, that people don’t care. Just trust us, they say. Then they throw up smoke screens, attack those who question them and try to change the subject.
This is not about politics; it’s about ethics. That is why every president for the past 45 years, Republicans and Democrats alike, and every Kentucky governor for the past 22 years, Republicans and Democrats, have made their recent income tax returns public. No other document so fully reveals a person’s financial situation.
Presidents and governors set public policy and spend a lot of taxpayer money. Are those decisions lining their pockets, or the pockets of their friends and contributors? Do they have conflicts of interest, real or potential? Taxpayers have a right to know.
This issue has never been more important than now. Both Bevin and Trump are wealthy businessmen and first-time public servants. Both have big egos and don’t like people questioning their judgment or decisions. They don’t seem to think the rules that apply to everyone else should apply to them.
Also, both Trump and Bevin are pushing for big changes in federal and state tax codes. We don’t yet know the details of their proposals, but indications are that they would cut taxes for corporations and rich people like them and shift the burden to everyone else.
Democrats in Congress are now demanding that Trump reveal his tax returns before they will cooperate on any tax overhaul. More than a dozen GOP lawmakers also have called on Trump to show his returns. Kentucky legislators with any interest in accountability should demand the same of Bevin. Why should anyone enact tax changes without knowing how they would affect the executives proposing them?
Partial information from Trump’s 1995 and 2005 tax returns has been leaked to journalists. They show that Trump took nearly $1 billion in write-offs for business losses, and that without the alternative minimum tax, which he has pledged to abolish, he would have paid only $5.3 million in taxes on $150 million of 2005 income.
The Trump administration is shaping up to be one of the most ethically challenged in decades. The potential conflicts of interest involving Trump, family members he had brought into government and his top appointees are huge. The stakes are especially high because of allegations that his campaign might have colluded with Russia. The president claims that he has no financial ties to Russia, but he refuses to show his tax returns to prove it.
Bevin’s behavior also begs for more transparency. Reporting by the Courier-Journal’s Tom Loftus has raised questions about whether the governor might have gotten a sweetheart deal on a 10-acre estate in suburban Louisville from Neil Ramsey, an investment company president and political contributor whom he appointed last year to the Kentucky Retirement Systems board of directors.
Bevin’s family seems to have moved into the Anchorage estate, which is being guarded by the governor’s state police security detail. The governor won’t say whether he owns the house or whether his family is living there.
Records show that a limited-liability corporation owned by Ramsey sold the house and 10 surrounding acres March 9 to another limited-liability corporation for $1.6 million. Four years earlier, the property and nine additional acres were sold for $3 million, so the latest sale seems a good deal for somebody.
Releasing income tax returns has become a basic form of transparency and accountability for American politicians. So you have to wonder: What do Trump and Bevin have to hide?