“We’d like to know what’s in those tax returns that he refuses to show to the American public. Did he pay any taxes?” Reid asked in an impassioned speech to the Senate on July 11. Days later, Reid, who’s from Nevada, suggested that Romney’s refusal to release more than two years of tax returns would make him ineligible to serve even as dogcatcher.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, also has harangued Romney for refusing to release more tax returns, calling it a “penchant for secrecy.”
All three refused repeated requests from McClatchy to release their own returns, requests that started before the flap over Romney’s records.
Pelosi aides refused, saying she’s disclosed all that Congress requires.
“The leader has filed a complete financial disclosure report as required by law that includes financial holdings, transactions and other personal information,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said. “There has been no question about where Leader Pelosi and Democrats stand on tax policy: We must extend the middle-class tax cuts and end tax breaks for millionaires and use the revenues to pay down the deficit.”
Challenged at a recent news conference to release hers, Wasserman Schultz said she wouldn’t because she wasn’t running for president. “I file full financial disclosure required under the law,” she said.
What’s required by law is written by Congress itself, a broad financial-disclosure statement that offers no direct information on tax liabilities and no requirement for reporting spousal income other than the source – but not the amount – of any income above $1,000. There’s little way of knowing whether that spousal income is $1,001 or $1 million.
Several members of Congress married into money or have wealthy spouses. Topping that list are Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, whose wife, Linda, is an heiress to the Clear Channel Communications fortune, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., whose wife, Teresa, is the heiress to the Heinz ketchup fortune. Pelosi’s husband, Paul, heads Financial Leasing Services Inc., a San Francisco-based venture capital and real estate firm.
When it comes to the valuation of investments or reporting of income on the annual disclosure forms, what’s required are broad numbers such as between $250,000 and $500,000 or $1 million and $5 million. That makes it hard to determine how much benefit a lawmaker might get from competing tax plans.
“They just don’t provide the same level of detail as a tax return,” said Darrell West, a specialist on governing and a vice president of the Brookings Institution, a center-left research center in Washington.
Most members won’t release that kind of detail.
Only 17 members shared their detailed tax information with McClatchy. Another 19 refused, but the majority of them stressed that they comply with congressional disclosure requirements.
Of the lawmakers who shared their tax returns, most got large deductions for interest on personal and investment real estate. That’s useful information for taxpayers, since a revamp of the tax code is expected in the next few years.
McClatchy isn’t releasing the tax returns under the terms of the agreement with the lawmakers. Reporters requested the returns to examine in detail how members would be personally affected by changes in tax laws being debated in Congress including income tax rates, as well as taxes on capital gains and dividends and deductions for such expenses as home mortgage interest. In exchange for sharing their returns, members were told their actual returns would not be made public.