Former South Carolina governor and current Representative Mark Sanford, an avowed supporter of Republican nominee Donald Trump, has demanded to see Trump’s tax returns; if Trump refuses, Sanford will reconsider his vote. Every modern presidential candidate has released their tax returns in the interest of transparency, and most congressional and gubernatorial candidates also release their returns. According to Sanford, Trump’s secrecy does not bode well for the future of transparency in American politics.
Hypocritically, Trump previously promised to release his tax returns. In May he said, “If I decide to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns, absolutely, and I would love to do that.” In 2012 Trump criticized then-Republican nominee Mitt Romney for not releasing his taxes sooner in the race. Trump suggested April 1 would have been an optimal release date.
In a New York Times op-ed Sanford explains how Trump’s refusal to release has tax returns represents a threat to American democracy:
To [Trump], demands that he release his tax returns are just a ploy by his opponents and enemies to undermine his campaign. But that obstinacy will have consequences. Not releasing his tax returns would hurt transparency in our democratic process, and particularly in how voters evaluate the men and women vying to be our leaders. Whether he wins or loses, that is something our country cannot afford.
He goes on to discuss how the issue is “not really about his tax records per se.” The issue at stake is keeping politicians transparent to the American public so that elected officials will continue to be held accountable for all their actions by voters.
Sanford discusses Trump’s cowardice in light of his own experiences running for governor of South Carolina, and considers the dire implications for all levels of politics if Trump gets away with secrecy:
I ran twice for governor of South Carolina, and I released my tax returns both times. To be frank, it felt a bit like a colonoscopy: I didn’t like it, but it was our tradition in South Carolina. The power of staying true to the precedent that had been set prevailed. If presidential candidates won’t release their tax returns, you can expect the same in the states. If a presidential nominee doesn’t do it, why should a candidate for governor?
Even Trump supporters are acknowledging that they cannot give him a political blank check. Trump’s secrecy about his personal finances is a dark omen for the future of American politics, and casts a long shadow on his own campaign which is founded on his supposed financial success as a businessman.
There are a few things Trump could be hiding in his returns. Perhaps he is not the business success that he claims to be, making his claims to be qualified for the presidency because he is a good businessman even more suspect. Perhaps Trump, like other members of the American ultra-rich, using accounting tricks and exploits legal loopholes to artificially lower his tax rate; he might, for example, hide his money in offshore accounts. A final possibility is that Trump has financial connections with unsavory foreign actors like Russian President Vladimir Putin.
If Trump really has nothing to hide, he has no reason to arouse public suspicion by ignoring decades of transparency practices. His own supporters struggling to stomach the possibility of voting for a candidate who will be the first to hide his personal finances since pre-Nixon days.
Marisa completed her undergraduate degree in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin with a double major in creative writing and media studies. She is an advocate of progressive policies and focuses her interests on gender equality and preventing sexual and domestic violence.