[Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi]…are among hundreds of senators and representatives from both parties who refused to release their tax records. Just 17 out of the 535 members of Congress released their most recent tax forms or provided some similar documentation of their tax liabilities in response to requests from McClatchy over the last three months. Another 19 replied that they wouldn’t release the information, and the remainder never responded to the query.
The widespread secrecy in one branch of the government suggests a self-imposed double standard. Yet while American politics has come to expect candidates for the presidency to release their tax returns, the president isn’t alone in having a say over the nation’s tax laws. Congress also stands to gain or lose by the very tax policies it enacts, and tax records – more than any broad financial disclosure rules now in place – offer the chance to see whether the leaders of the government stand to benefit from their own actions…
To Pelosi and some other top Democrats, the focus is on Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, who’s released his 2010 return and 2011 estimates and plans to release his 2011 return when it’s completed, but refuses to release any more. They say the very refusal to release more suggests that he’s hiding something.
“He could not even become a Cabinet member for that lack of disclosure, and now with that lack of disclosure he wants to be president of the United States,” said Pelosi, the House minority leader, who’s from California.
Apparently, though, he could become Speaker of the House or Senate Majority Leader.
Romney’s defense has been that he’s released everything he’s required to, and more—and funny thing, that’s the defense of Pelosi and Reid as well (except for the “and more” part):
[Pelosi, Reid, and Wasserman-Schultz] 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…
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…
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.
The hypocrisy is staggering, but hardly surprising.