The income tax returns of candidates for national or statewide office are not a “distraction” from the issues; they are an issue.
They are an important source of information for voters to judge whether they think a particular candidate can understand their situation and adequately represent them.
It’s not just a matter of conflicts of interest that might be settled through financial disclosure forms that are required.
It’s a matter of trust and a matter of perspective.
State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, the Republican candidate for governor, reluctantly and half-heartedly made his income tax returns available to reporters — for a limited amount of time, in person, in Springfield. But at least he showed something. Plus, voters have his years in public office to further help them evaluate the job he would do as governor.
His running mate, 27-year-old Jason Plummer, who has never held elective office, has refused.
Plummer is the 27-year-old vice president of his family’s business, R.P. Lumber. According to the report filed with the Illinois Board of Elections, Plummer’s campaign committee has received $560,000 in loans from R.P. Lumber, $200,000 in loans from Robert Plummer and $350,000 from the candidate himself.
The disclosures, required by state law, are good to see. But Plummer’s income tax returns would give voters’ additional insight into the candidate seeking their vote.
The Democratic candidates, Gov. Pat Quinn and his running mate, Sheila Simon, released their latest tax returns in April.
In a Dec. 4 editorial on this topic, we referred to comments made by Joseph J. Thorndike, contributing editor of the website TaxAnalysts, on the value of presidents and presidential candidates making their tax returns public.
The reasoning applies to candidates for governors, too, and is worth repeating: “Public returns can reveal points of inconsistency between a candidate’s public rhetoric and his private finances. Which is no small thing, especially when a candidate makes a point of targeting tax avoidance.”
Arguing that releasing the information invades a candidate’s “privacy” is not a persuasive argument.
When an individual chooses to seek public office, particularly high public office — such as governor or lieutenant governor — their expectations of privacy should shrink considerably.
When running for statewide office, that includes recognizing that their income tax returns shouldn’t be private — not if candidates want to demonstrate a commitment to openness and transparency.