TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Brown: Lessons From Barack and Michelle Obama’s Tax Returns

TaxSymposiumHeaderDorothy A. Brown (Emory), Lessons From Barack and Michelle Obama’s Tax Returns, 142 Tax Notes 1109 (Mar. 10, 2014) (Symposium on Tax Reform in a Time of Crisis):

President and Mrs. Obama have made their tax returns publicly available going back to tax year 2000. While every year with the release of a new tax return, analysis turns to a particular year’s tax return, this study analyzes their tax returns for the years 2000-2004. The study shows that when you compare the Obamas’ tax return data with published Internal Revenue Service statistics, that for every year but one, the Obamas’ paid higher taxes than their financial peers – perhaps one more piece of evidence that we are not post-racial yet.

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It's interesting how many people seem able to see things only in terms of race. What leaps out to me from these returns is how much money Obama made from selling a book that most people were pretty clearly buying because he was a presidential candidate. There's nothing illegal about this, but it tells you something about the blurring of lines between public and private and the complexity of the "social justice" phenomenon. It doesn't have much of anything to do with race.

Posted by: michael livingston | Apr 29, 2014 6:02:09 AM

Not so fast Prof. Livingston. Obama has written three books: Dreams from My Father (1995, republ. 2004); The Audacity of Hope (2006); and Of Thee I Sing (2008). The latter two books obviously post-date the 2000-2004 tax return period analyzed by Dean Brown. As for Dreams from My Father, Obama did not announce his candidacy for president until February 10, 2007, which was also more than two full years after the last tax return period examined here. Then-Sen. Obama did not give his widely-acclaimed DNC speech–in support of John Kerry’s nomination–until July, 2004. The speech was viewed by 9.1 million people, and was the first time most people ever heard of him. While the speech elevated his standing within the party, it would be quite a stretch to say it made him an instant presidential candidate. To quote one of my least favorite presidents, “facts are stubborn things.”

Posted by: Publius Novus | Apr 29, 2014 6:55:33 AM

@Publius That's literally true but misleading. Obama was known to be considering a presidential run from the moment of the 2004 speech. Do you think most people would have read his book if he were only a state senator? You might have, but I certainly wouldn't have. It's a good book, BTW, more honest than most.

Posted by: michael livingston | Apr 29, 2014 10:29:05 AM

And does anyone really believe that President Obama would have had any chance of even being nominated if it weren't for race. Works both ways!!

Posted by: Marc Haven | Apr 30, 2014 7:01:13 AM