Every elected president since Richard Nixon has voluntarily released their tax returns to the public — until Trump. By refusing to release his personal or business tax returns, Trump undermines norms of transparency and prevents the American people from holding him accountable for his unprecedented conflicts of interest. And now, by directing his Treasury Secretary to refuse to release his taxes to a congressional committee that subpoenaed them in the course of performing its oversight function, he is ignoring the law.
Read about the history of this presidential tradition, and the fight to obtain Trump’s personal and business tax returns.
The Presidential Tax Tradition
A president is not required by law to release their tax returns, but every single elected president since President Richard Nixon has made their tax returns public. And that’s for good reason. In 1973, Nixon faced public outrage after leaked IRS documents revealed that he had grossly underpaid income taxes. Hoping to lessen the impact of the scandal, Nixon released his tax returns from 1969 to 1972.
Since then, elected presidents from both parties have upheld this tradition to prove they pay their fair share of taxes, show they are free from conflicts of interest that would impact how they govern, and reinforce a culture of ethics and transparency at the highest levels of our government. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns is a regression to an era of secrecy we thought we left behind. We must defend this vital American norm and fight for transparency and accountability from our elected leaders.
“Trump’s tax returns are the perfect example of an information void for needed oversight and accountability.” — Lisa Gilbert, Vice President of Legislative Affairs at Public Citizen
Trump’s Taxes: What We Know
What we have seen of Trump’s business dealings and financial entanglements is deeply troubling. Trump routinely gamed the tax system to pay less than his fair share. Reporting by The New York Times on Trump’s financial records between 1985 and 1994 reveal a man on the brink of financial ruin who used “dubious tax schemes” and outright fraud to make millions. During that ten-year period, Trump first appeared on the Forbes list of the most wealthy Americans, yet he claimed on tax returns to have suffered over a billion dollars in business losses. For eight of those ten years, Trump did not pay a single cent in income tax.
Imagine what Trump’s recent tax returns would reveal.
Besides revealing losses that dismantle the myth of Trump as a successful, self-made businessman, and uncovering more shady tax practices, Trump’s taxes could uncover the truth about his foreign entanglements. We already know he lied about his efforts to do business with the Russians during the 2016 campaign. The American people deserve to know what else Trump is covering up and how he is profiting from the presidency. Trump’s refusal to divest from his business holdings upon taking office — also a departure from presidential norms — makes this all the more important. He continues to profit from Trump Organization properties around the world, and his businesses have numerous ties to countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Israel, and Turkey.
“This issue is not going away, with more wealthy business people from both major political parties expressing interest in running for president. The public’s interest in transparency will only continue to grow, as will the risk that candidates may have unknown national security vulnerabilities tied to their vast global business interests.” — Rudy Mehrbani, Senior Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice
Stand Up America’s Tax Fight
Since taking control of the House of Representatives, Congressional Democrats have attempted to obtain and release Trump’s taxes. They are well within their legal rights to do so. Under the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. § 6103(f), three congressional committees can request tax information from the IRS for specific legislative purposes, including congressional oversight. We’re pleased that the House Ways and Means Committee has finally sued the Trump administration for failing to comply with a subpoena for Trump’s federal tax returns — but it has taken a lot to get to this point.
The Stand Up America community was critical in pressuring House Democrats to take action, making over 10,000 calls and sending thousands of emails, messages, and tweets to Congress to demand that Chairman Neal request Trump’s taxes. When Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin illegally refused to comply with the request, then refused to comply with a subpoena, our community continued pressuring Chairman Neal to take action until he filed a lawsuit to force compliance.
Our community also fought successfully to pass the TRUST Act in New York State, a new law that allows Congress to ask New York for six years of Trump’s state tax returns. We are demanding that Chairman Neal use this new law to obtain Trump’s New York State taxes so that his committee can use this information to continue their investigation while litigation moves forward. Taken together, the Stand Up America community has made important progress toward exposing Trump’s tax schemes, conflicts of interest, and foreign entanglements.
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