Should a sitting president’s tax information be released to the public?
- On Sunday, September 27th, The New York Times published findings from an unnamed source regarding President Trump’s tax information from the last two decades.
- A Business Insider poll from 2019 found that only 29% of respondents would be more likely to support a presidential candidate if they released their tax returns.
- The IRS is barred from releasing any individual’s tax information--even a president’s--as it is “private information, protected by law from unauthorized disclosure.” Only authorized agencies or individuals have access.
- Some believe the IRS is not such an independent agency, as the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, the person who heads up the IRS, is nominated by the US president and is then confirmed by the Senate.
A law should exist that makes the tax returns of a president publicly accessible. After all, the president is a taxpayer and the one in charge of national tax collection.
The IRS automatically audits the president every year, but during President Nixon's impeachment, the IRS admitted that their audit of him had a lot of problems. And these issues were only brought to light after the audit was leaked by a journalist, proving that a president could easily bury his own financial information if he so wished. Following Nixon, it became a tradition for presidents to release their tax information. Still, just like the tradition that presidents serve only two terms, when broken, it needs to be reinforced by law. The 1997 Supreme Court case Clinton v. Jones held that the president is not immune from civil suits based on unofficial conduct, and being charged with tax evasion would be considered as such.
Making the president's tax returns public would also help protect the country from foreign influence. Our founders were very concerned about preventing government officials from being influenced by outside forces, with Alexander Hamilton calling it 'one of the most deadly adversaries of republican government.' Forcing the president to reveal his tax returns would help ensure he does not receive any 'profit, gain, or advantage' from a foreign government.
The best way to hold the president accountable is to, by law, make the audits the IRS already does available to the public. That way, taxpayers will know that the person in charge of collecting taxes is following the rules just like everyone else.
Would you be willing to disclose your personal tax information as a prerequisite for a job? It is illegal for the IRS to release tax returns, so if an employer were to require a prospective employee's tax information, that person would need to volunteer the data themselves. It seems that the office of the US presidency is an employment opportunity where it is expected that a candidate releases such information.
The US Constitution lays out the requirements for presidential candidacy, and personal tax information transparency is not listed as one. And if the release of one's financial records were required before taking public office, qualified people may be dissuaded from running because they value their privacy. More importantly, someone's individual tax information has no bearing on his or her ability (or inability) to serve as president.
In the past, presidential candidates have released their tax returns on a purely voluntary basis, which has set a dangerous precedent for turning this process into a pseudo-requirement to hold office. Just because every president since Nixon has released their tax returns, does not make it necessary.
In expecting a presidential candidate (or sitting president) to divulge their confidential tax return information, the people of the United States and their representatives in Congress are setting themselves up for a disappointment if the matter ever comes before the Supreme Court again. The Court has already ruled that a president doesn't need to divulge their tax information to Congress, and any attempt to obtain this information as a 'requirement' for presidency is--in fact--illegal.