TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hemel:  The Quick And Easy Way To See Trump’s Tax Returns

Trump Tax ReturnsWashington Post op-ed: There’s a Quick and Easy Way to See Trump’s Tax Returns, by Daniel Hemel (Chicago):

State lawmakers across the country are pursuing creative methods to force President Trump to release his federal income tax returns before he can run for reelection in 2020. Unfortunately for citizens interested in greater presidential transparency, those efforts are likely to fail.

There is, however, a much easier way for state lawmakers to force the disclosure of Trump’s tax information: publishing the state tax returns already in their possession, which would reveal much of the same information appearing in his federal documents. ...

So far, state lawmakers have focused their attention on bills that would require candidates to release their federal income tax returns before appearing on those states’ presidential ballots. The Democratic-controlled New Jersey legislature approved such a bill last month. State lawmakers in California, New York and 20 other states have introduced similar legislation. The ballot-access approach faces three formidable obstacles. ...

[P]ublishing Trump’s state tax returns is a much more viable option — and would make his returns available to the public now, rather than three years from now.

Trump’s New York state resident income tax returns show his salary, dividends, capital gains, rental real estate income and other income from all sources — including sources outside New York. If Trump fills out a “Resident Itemized Deduction Schedule” — as most high-income individuals in New York do — he also reports his gifts to charity. And if he is using phantom losses from previous years to offset tax on his current-year income, then the New York state return shows that too.

New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance keeps copies of Trump’s state returns from as far back as 1990. Current New York law prohibits state tax officials from disclosing an individual’s returns, but the New York legislature could amend that law to require the state tax authority to post the president’s returns from the past quarter-century on its website. ...

State lawmakers have the power to provide voters with a more comprehensive understanding of the president’s taxpaying past. They should use it.

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Is it perhaps unconstitutional to publish the tax returns of a single individual? New York can get around this small problem by making everyone's tax returns public.

Trump derangement syndrome? "Phantom losses"??? After practicing tax law for more than 40 years, I am unsure of the meaning of this technical term.. Clearly President Trump should never release any of his returns. If I were a more advanced individual, I wouldn't find this flailing about to find some post-election mechanism to defeat Donld Trump so amusing.

Posted by: aircav65 | Apr 12, 2017 4:46:24 AM

Trump continues to claim he paid all tax legally due, when what he means is "I got away with it, didn't I?" He claimed almost $1 billion worth of fake losses that did not happen economically relying on what was called the "Loch Ness Loophole" because everyone in real estate wanted it, but it had never been reliably proved. Then he claimed the banks gave up $1billion of debt he owed them in exchange for partnership interest worth 2 cents on the dollar if that. No court allowed him the fake losses, and none would See, Calvin Johnson, Bought Law

Posted by: Calvin Johnson | Apr 12, 2017 8:11:44 AM

An actual line from Calvin Johnson's linked piece:

"If the IRS had served its duty to God and Country it would have challenged the position and prevailed in court."

I'd love to hear more about the duties the IRS owes to God.

Posted by: Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk | Apr 12, 2017 9:40:13 AM

Why the President's tax returns, and nobody else's?

I imagine there are a great many dirty little secrets to be learned about elected officials at all levels of government in the deep blue state of New York.

Somehow I doubt the NY legislature will ever demonstrate any kind of consistent honesty on this issue...

Posted by: MM | Apr 12, 2017 10:33:29 PM