Democrats call for law on presidential candidate tax returns

Jul 18, 2012 Issues: Government Reform

A pair of congressional brothers sought Wednesday to rally support for greater transparency among presidential candidates, particularly in regard to the hot topic around Washington this week – tax returns.

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, announced he is preparing legislation to amend 1978’s Ethics and Government Act to mandate that all presidential candidates release at least 10 years of tax returns. As it stands now, it’s up to each candidate how much of their financial history they wish to disclose, a standard that Levin says is insufficient, particularly in regard to the disclosure of offshore accounts, compensatory arrangements and the details of capital gains income.

As with anything in Washington, the legislation has more than a little to do with the current presidential campaign, as Democrats have been hammering Republican Mitt Romney to release more than the single tax return he has thus far made public.

While making clear that he thinks Romney should release his past returns, Sander Levin said the matter is “not a question of disqualification, but of information,” citing the need for candidates to not only provide their tax returns, but to do so in a way that allows the average American to understand them.

 Though the bill has yet to be written, Sander Levin said that his intention is for it to “apply to all active candidates,” from the beginning of their candidacy onward.

Levin’s brother, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), took to the Senate floor to take on a Romney-related topic. He spoke after  Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) claimed that “Romney is the first presidential candidate in American history with a Swiss bank account,” which “raises questions.”

Carl Levin spoke of the need for the Senate to curb the abuse of offshore tax havens, through passage of legislation such as the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act or the CUT Loopholes Act. But he also announced his support for a Durbin bill that would require that all candidates for public office reveal assets they may hold in tax havens.

“Perhaps there are some who believe individuals and corporations should be allowed to continue concealing their income and assets overseas,” Carl Levin said. “But surely we can all agree that the American people deserve to know when their public officials are using offshore tax havens.”

Carl Levin echoed his brother’s rebuttal to claims their efforts are spurred by partisan objectives, though neither Levin argued that Romney had violated current rules.

“This is not about a political campaign. This is about years of effort to make visible those who shortchange their fellow citizens by concealing their finances abroad,” he said.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made clear that he disagreed with both Levins.

“The American people are asking, where are the jobs? They're not asking where in the hell the tax returns are,” he said. “This is another sideshow intended to draw the American people's attention away from the real issue.”