At a time when the longstanding chorus of Democratic demands to see Donald Trump’s tax returns is reaching a crescendo (and extending into congressional requests to the IRS for the documents), there’s a bit of an embarrassing sideshow going on. One of the top candidates for the nomination to oppose Trump, Bernie Sanders, has been conspicuously dragging his feet on disclosing his own tax returns, for years.
The saga has been going on for a good while, as CNN reports:
Bernie Sanders has effectively been running for president steadily since, at least, 2015. And over all that time — which now spans two campaigns for president — we’ve seen exactly one year of his tax returns. In the 2016 campaign, Sanders released the two summary pages of his 2014 returns only. He said he would release a more robust tax history if he became the Democratic nominee, which, well, didn’t happen. By contrast, Hillary Clinton released eight years of returns — spanning 2007-2014 — in August 2015. A year later, in the midst of the general election against Donald Trump,Clinton released her 2015 return.
A former Clinton campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, took a dim view of how Sanders handled the issue in 2016:
“There was this sense he was kicking this can down the road until he was out of the race,” Fallon said of Sanders. “Presumably, when he decided to run this time, he should’ve factored in that this campaign was going to come with an added level of scrutiny.”
In February, Sanders said he’d release a decade of past returns “sooner rather than later.” More recently, he somewhat vaguely pointed to the April 15 federal tax filing deadline and said he’d release the old returns “very shortly” after that.
So what’s going on? There are, of course, rumors he and/or his wife are hiding something fishy. A sympathetic progressive observer, Ryan Grim, thinks it could have to do with the entirely legitimate money Sanders made on his most recent book, which might be embarrassing strictly because it lifted his income into the ranks of the well-off. But Grim also thinks it’s a symptom of a larger Sanders problem of inflexibility:
By failing to release his tax returns despite repeated promises to do so any minute now, Sanders is being the stubborn curmudgeon he’s always been….
Sanders refuses to engage with things that annoy him. But he is no longer a protest candidate and can no longer escape the old adage that you may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you. He’s running not to make a statement or drag the conversation to the left, but to be the leader of the most powerful country in the history of the world and to rescue it from its collision course with a dystopian future. People rightly want to know whether he has his act together enough to do that, particularly as they experience life under the presidency of a man who clearly does not.
There’s even an argument being made one prominent socialist that Bernie’s insistent critique of the rich and privileged means he should be immune from criticism on such mundane things as tax documents:
While it’s true nobody thinks that Sanders’ tax returns will expose him as a Wall Street stooge, the claim that he should be held to a lower standard of disclosure than anyone else isn’t going to fly.
To be clear, Sanders is far from being the only 2020 candidate who hasn’t released his tax returns: only four, Elizabeth Warren, Jay Inslee, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar, have done so. But he’s been fighting this step for longer than anyone else, so his case is the most frustrating for Democrats battling to force the release of Trump’s returns.
If Grim is right and it really is just a matter of stubbornness, Sanders should get over it. Otherwise suspicions that it’s something else will only grow.