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Editorial Candidates in dubious club of Nixon, Trump

September 19, 2018

We don’t like Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski’s response when asked if he would release his personal tax records.

“I’d be happy to issue a summary of where I am and show you the amount of taxes I paid, which is more than adequate,” Stefanowski told about 20 reporters after Monday’s debate in New Haven.

The “more than adequate” phrase sounds like textbook Stefanowski bluster.

We like Democratic candidate Ned Lamont’s answer even less, which was essentially “I’ll show mine if he shows his.”

Four years ago, incumbent Gov. Dannel P. Malloy presented the top sheets of his federal and state tax returns. His opponent, Greenwich Republican Tom Foley, raised more questions than answers by releasing limited paperwork that revealed the wealthy businessman paid an effective tax rate of zero for three years.

Maybe we should blame President Donald Trump for this. While on the campaign trail, Trump offered an entertaining variety of deflective answers, notably that he would release his tax records after his election.

We’re still waiting.

It’s hard not to be suspicious when any candidate dodges the request, even more so because it tends to be the wealthiest ones who resist emptying their pockets.

The tradition of releasing tax records was fallout from the elimination of a provision in the tax code 50 years ago. U.S. presidents would no longer be able to claim a sizable deduction in exchange for the donation of their papers to a public archive.

President Richard M. Nixon claimed a deduction of about half a million dollars, the timing of which came into question during the Watergate investigation.

Nixon declined to release his records and was exposed when Providence Journal-Bulletin journalist Jack White reported the sitting American president paid less than $1,000 off his $400,000 in earnings.

Dick was being tricky.

It was a follow-up request that led to Nixon’s most famous quote, which is commonly misinterpreted as being a response to the Watergate break-in.

“I am not a crook.”

It still took Nixon months to release the documents, and he would eventually have to pay back $476,431 after an Internal Revenue Service audit.

Thus, we like to know our elected leaders are being transparent.

Until Trump, every president since Nixon released tax records in some form.

Cloaking the personal records is a measure of a candidate’s character, for several reasons. The paperwork can reveal if the individual paid taxes to a foreign government. It outlines charitable contributions, demonstrating, for example, how altruistic former President George H.W. Bush was, notably to his alma mater, Yale University in New Haven.

In the case of Lamont and Stefanowski, the numbers can suggest how they might approach dealing with tax codes for Connecticut residents who are not in the Millionaires Club.

We’re left with a simple question for the candidates. One we’ll keep asking, and will encourage other journalists to ask until we’re collectively labeled a public nuisance:

“Will you release your tax records?”

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