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Pre-2008 Posts

Barack Obama: Most Trustworthy Candidate (Besides Me)?

I have been learning what the financial disclosure requirements are for candidates for President.  I’ve obtained the forms and have spoken with representatives from the Federal Elections Commission.  It’s interesting — for ordinary people, the disclosure requirements are not onerous.  For example, you do not have to disclose information about the value of your primary residence, what you owe on your house, information about your vehicles, or consumer debt of any kind under $10,000.  You have to disclose your membership in organizations, work for organizations (even if unpaid), and lists of donors and how much they contributed to your campaign.  You have to disclose assets over $1,000, your income and sources of income, and property, stock, bond, commodity futures and other kinds of transactions over $1,000 in the calendar year for which you are reporting.    You have to include compensation paid to you in excess of $5,000 by a single source, and you have to include information about any 401(k) or similar employee benefit plan.  My reporting of all of the above would be unremarkable, to say the least.

I was struck by something I came across though.  Of all of the candidates for President, Barack Obama is the only one who has made public disclosure of his federal income tax returns.  None of the other candidates has done that. 

That says a lot, to me, about Obama’s honesty, integrity, and openness.  I will likewise disclose my IRS returns, when the time comes.  If a candidate has nothing to hide, if she or he is on the up and up and can offer explanations for anything unusual, why not disclose federal income tax returns, given the other requirements for financial disclosures which must be made regardless?

I think it’s wrong that to run for President, or to be President, you essentially have to be affluent.  I think ordinary people, who make ordinary financial disclosures, who have ordinary federal income tax turns, are the kind of people we need in public office.




14 thoughts on “Barack Obama: Most Trustworthy Candidate (Besides Me)?

  1. Heart, that is interesting, indeed. Would you point to where one could look at this? I tried the site of the Federal Elections Commission and saw some documents for Obama, but did not see his personal income tax return. Is it in fact available for all to see? — sw

    Posted by secondwaver | September 24, 2007, 5:32 pm
  2. But I, as an ‘ordinary people’ would have no idea how to run a corporation, no experience at that. And that is essentially what a politician at that level is doing. I wouldn’t even know anything about a stock, or bond. Never had a one! Talk about a steep learning curve. Oy vey.

    By the way Heart, does the candidate have to declare donations in kind, not only in money, ie) corporations loaning their strategic planning and public relations staff to candidates?

    Who was my proxy vote again? Someone volunteered to be, but that was a few months ago. Dim mists.

    Posted by Sis | September 24, 2007, 5:37 pm
  3. Hi, secondwaver. My hunch is that you would request it from his campaign committee, since disclosure is voluntary. Following is an article about it like the one I came across:

    ’08 Candidates Keeping Income Tax Info Secret

    ABC | May 13, 2007

    Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.,worked for a hedge fund while heading a poverty center in between his presidential campaigns. But since he isn’t telling, voters can’t know how much money he earned.

    Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., says his wife, Ann, once donated to Planned Parenthood, but that he never contributed to an abortion-rights group himself. But there’s no way for the media and the public to check that claim.

    Candidates Keep Taxes in the Dark

    In a break with the tradition of recent presidential campaigns, most of the major presidential candidates aren’t releasing their income-tax filings.

    Edwards has indicated that he will keep his tax returns private, and while Romney is still considering his options, he has never released his returns in previous runs for office.

    Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., aren’t saying whether they will or not, but neither has released income tax forms filed this year.

    That means voters are likely to know less about the income sources, personal wealth and charitable inclinations of the presidential candidates than in any election in the past generation.

    “When you run for president, you really have to open yourself up to the American people,” said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause, a government watchdog group. “If you’re asking voters of this country to elect you as president, it’s reasonable and rational that your tax returns are made public.”

    Tax Release Common Post-Watergate

    The release of candidates’ tax forms has become common practice in presidential campaigns since the Watergate era of the early ’70s.

    Since 1984, only one major-party presidential candidate — Bill Clinton in 1992 — has refused to release the tax forms he sent to the Internal Revenue Service.

    In 1996, Clinton did release his forms, and Republican nominee Bob Dole released his tax returns going back 30 years.

    Candidates, including 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004, and Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, were criticized for not releasing their spouses’ returns but offered no resistance to releasing their own.

    Yet as the 2008 election draws near, the only top-tier candidate who has committed to releasing his 1040 forms is Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who already made public the return he filed this year.

    Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., released his while he served as New York City’s mayor but has not said whether he will revive the practice during his presidential run. (The tax forms from his mayoralty presented an unwelcome distraction to his campaign this week, when reporters tallied up six separate donations he and his then-wife made in the 1990s to Planned Parenthood, a prominent abortion-rights group.)

    Full Disclosure Not Required

    The candidates who keep their returns private generally note they are complying with all federal regulations with regard to financial disclosures.

    The candidates are required to submit standard financial disclosure forms — due next week — similar to those filed by all members of Congress, stating their income sources and investment holdings in broad financial categories.

    “We will comply with all the personal financial disclosure procedures required by the Federal Election Commission,” said Kevin Madden, a Romney spokesman.

    Madden said no final decision had been made as to whether Romney would release his tax returns, but he did not release them during his 1994 run for the U.S. Senate or his 2002 run for governor.

    The financial disclosure forms are designed to provide “protection against potential conflicts of interest,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan group that promotes openness in government.

    They are not, however, audited by the government, leaving the possibility of candidates filing incomplete or inaccurate documents.

    In any event, the financial disclosure documents provide only a fraction of the information available on tax returns. They do not track charitable donations, gift-giving or stock transactions.

    Candidates do not have to reveal the value of their mortgages, or deductions such as medical expenses, which can reveal chronic health conditions or ongoing medical treatments.

    Only tax forms would reveal whether a wealthy candidate — many of the 2008 candidates are multimillionaires — have used loopholes to duck taxes.

    And while candidates do have to describe their sources of income, they do so only in broad categories.

    For instance, when Edwards revealed how much he was paid for his year-long stint consulting for the Fortress Investment Group, he can give a rough estimate — between $50,001 and $100,000, or between $100,001 and $1 million, for example.

    Joseph J. Thorndike, a historian and contributing editor for Tax Analysts, a nonpartisan group, acknowledged that privacy concerns may push candidates to keep their tax returns private.

    But releasing one’s forms, he said, demonstrates that a candidate “shows trust and respect for the office,” he said.

    In short, Thorndike said, the tax return tells “a lot about your life.”



    Posted by womensspace | September 24, 2007, 5:40 pm
  4. From what I can see on the instructions, it looks as though only incumbents and termination filers have to disclose in-kind travel expenses, travel-related cash reimbursements, gifts, etc.

    Posted by womensspace | September 24, 2007, 5:48 pm
  5. And so as to plug myself, I have run my own corporation, my magazine/publishing business, Gentle Spirit, between 1989 and 2001. I would send everyone to the website but the recent Anon attacks took it out.


    Posted by womensspace | September 24, 2007, 5:49 pm
  6. Dear Heart,

    I think it’s faulty reasoning to think only people like ourselves should hold public office. One person’s “ordinary” is another’s fortune and still another’s poverty.

    I don’t want to vote for somebody because they look like me, live like me, or have the same background as me. I especially don’t want to vote for somebody because they make the same level of money as I do.

    I want to know their positions and actions on issues past and present. I want them to speak to me with their own choice of words. And yes, I want to know how they make and use their money, as a reflection, possibly, of their values.

    But I’m not going to make my decision on whom to vote for in the presidential race based on how alike I feel. And I think you should reconsider what you’ve written here.

    Posted by twitch | September 24, 2007, 8:07 pm
  7. twitch, I think it’s great reasoning to think people like ourselves should hold public office. Especially if they are WOMEN. Who in large numbers need REPRESENTATION.

    Sorry to shout but not really.

    I don’t care if someone looks like me. I would much prefer someone who lives like me — meaning they are hardworking, they have to pay the bills, they have to keep themselves and their loved ones — human and creatures — fed, housed, and healthy, they have to pay their taxes like me, they clean their own living space, they ride public transportation some or all of the time, they pay a buttload of money for medical and dental insurance for their families, like I do, only to find out it doesn’t begin to cover their medical and dental expenses by a long shot, they clean their own toilets, they pinch pennies, they shop at discount and outlet stores, they use Freecycle and Craig’s List.

    As opposed to, you know, hiring servants, hiring gardeners, secreting money away in tax shelters so they pay minimal taxes, if any, having chauffeurs, owning five, six, seven cars, some of them SUVs and HUVs and luxury vehicles, to wit, zero consciousness of environmental issues. As opposed to people who are so rich they can choose any doctor, any hospital, pay for elective cosmetic and dental procedures, and barely even notice it, if they notice it at all, when it comes time to pay the bills. As opposed to people who, for example, sell last year’s kitchen appliances and furniture and buy everything new for this year because they feel like trying out a different look in one of their several mansions.

    I don’t care about people making the same level of money I do, but I DO care about people knowing what it is to be poor, not patronizing and matronizing the poor, when they haven’t been poor one MOMENT in their lives and have absolutely no clue what it means to be poor. I DON’T WANT A RICH PRESIDENT. He or she cannot know what it is to live as an “ordinary” American, meaning poor, or working class, or even middle class, and barely able to make it in this country that is supposedly so affluent.

    I certainly want to know where someone stands on the issues. But I also want to know that they have a lived experience that makes their stands MEAN something. Besides, they hope, VOTES.

    So no. I won’t be “rethinking” anything. But I suggest that you might consider it.


    Posted by womensspace | September 24, 2007, 8:41 pm
  8. Also.

    I swear by the Goddess that there are people hired by politicians and corporations to go around and post to blogs.

    Posted by womensspace | September 24, 2007, 8:44 pm
  9. Heart, they do (hire people to post on other blogs) — and sometimes the shills for politicians aren’t even paid.

    As far as the tax returns and transparency, that also took place during the 2006 senate race here in TN. Harold Ford Jr released full tax returns for a number of years (and I want to say a couple of extra years worth) while Corker released the bare minimum requirements. Unfortunately, Corker’s lack of transparency was spun away, “he met the requirements, so too bad,” almost word for word in article you posted (of course, eventually the racism in corker’s campaign took over the transparency issue, but that’s a whole other story)

    I personally think it’s a good idea for candidates to willingly show transparency, but I don’t know that transparency of tax returns is a top priority for many folks when deciding on a candidate, particularly when we look at the field of front-runners and all have more money than sense.

    Posted by archcrone | September 25, 2007, 12:40 am
  10. Dear Heart,

    I get your point about rich people not understanding what it’s like to worry, really worry about how to pay the bills. I’ve lived all up and down the economic ladder, and that’s not been exactly by choice. The stress of $43 in the checking account and $2,000 on the credit card and no job in sight but plenty of drug-dealers in the neighborhood — that I will never forget. Or the trade-offs between health insurance and traveling to see my family for the holidays or anytime for three years. (I chose the former, heartless but rational home economist that I am.)

    But I have also had the opportunity to launch a business, to find love with someone who’s now, finally, making a career in corporate America, and to contemplate maybe, just maybe hiring a housekeeper. Does that current affluence make me more or less of a viable candidate in your eyes?

    I am not so much disagreeing with you as posing a question to you and to myself. I have lived a lot of experiences not available to always poor, the always middle class, or the always-been rich. I feel the tug and pull of that experience, how living without current financial worries DOES change a person’s thinking. I like to believe that financial success through entrepreneurship has opened up my thinking, made me see opportunities where I previously saw closed doors. But I have also seen wealth as well economic frustration turn people (relatives of mine) into closed-minded snobs of one variety or another. I find the sheer variety of experience, the contradictions that rack me, interesting, a real adventure.

    One last note: I think you and your readers do yourselves a disservice making snide comments about how commenters who disagree with you are probably hired shills for politicians. Believe me, they don’t have the resources to pay others to troll through all the blogs they could disagree with. I found your blog through correntewire, and I enjoy it. It makes me think. I don’t read to find others I agree with totally. That would be boring and unchallenging. I read you, Heart, to think and think again about things I may have taken for granted and shouldn’t have.

    I know the above has been a bit rambling. I apologize for that. As Pascal said, “I’m sorry my letter is so long, but I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”

    Posted by twitch | September 25, 2007, 7:35 pm
  11. twitch, I’ve covered, several times at my old blog, corporations that are enlisting bloggers to push their “product” or their “good name”. One of those corporations is Walmart, and the bloggers they were enlisting are unpaid. there was a dust-up over it because some bloggers reprinted the press releases (or portions of pr) word for word.

    Another is a government agency — the Pentagon, which was (is still?) enlisting bloggers to shill for them. It’s the trend as blogs gain prominence in the discourse of any given topic.

    Politicians enlisting shills is not uncommon. Sometimes they are paid, more often than not, a politician enlists a few folk to work for free — part of supporting their candidate. (I watched a local candidate enlist supporters to shill for him at his opponent’s appearances last year). A comment from someone shilling for X may sometimes be hard to pick out from a comment supporting X. It’s not too hard to find out if someone is shilling for a candidate.

    the point is, it does happen. As blogs and blogging have become more involved in the political process, there will be shills trolling blogs to make their preferred candidate look better than another. Really, it’s just evolution in progress.

    Posted by archcrone | September 25, 2007, 8:39 pm
  12. Fair enough, twitch, re snide comments about commenters who might be shills for politicians or whatever. It’s just strange to me when someone I have never heard of turns up with a lengthy, well-written comment that sounds sort of… press release-like. But I like Chicago Dyke over at corrent ewire quite a lot and don’t want to be cranky to people who have learned of my blog from things she’s written, so I take it back with respect to your comment.

    As far as your comment goes, yes, $43 in the bank account and $2000 on the credit card is bad, but what about not being able to open a bank account because, say, you had a negative balance in a bank account for too long for reasons you couldn’t help (and there are many I can think of for poor people) and so the bank closed the account and now you’re on the banks’ (all the banks’) list of people who can’t have a bank account. What if you have to cash whatever checks you get at check-cashing places that charge you five percent each time? Worse, what if you are really struggling, like to keep the lights on or pay the rent, so you get a “payday loan,” and now every two weeks you are having to “turn it over,” i.e., get another payday loan because you can’t pay it back, plus you are paying, say, 432 percent interest on each “payday loan,” i.e., $150 per month on a one-time 500 loan. What if you get two, three of these “loans” so that in a year’s time you have NOTHING left after paying for these loans?! What about having no insurance and no way to get any? And being sick? What about not even having it as a remote option to take trips? What about having to take two, three buses to get to your $10/hour (if that) job and owning zero cars?

    I’m not wanting to berate you and I hope I don’t sound as though I am, I’m thinking that this is the reality of, I believe, huge numbers of citizens. HUGE. And your reality is the reality of the much smaller minority of citizens now running the country, holding office.

    What might someone do, in public office, had they lived the way so, so many poor and working and lower middle class people live? How might the country look different? We know how it looks with the rich running things, you know?

    So that’s what I’m thinking a lot about.

    Posted by womensspace | September 25, 2007, 8:42 pm
  13. Dear Heart,

    Okay. Thanks for the reply. I will not go off in a huff and slam the door — anyway, my girlfriend hates it when I do that.

    Posted by twitch | September 25, 2007, 9:06 pm
  14. This reminds me of a recent Jon Stewart show I saw with the President of Bolivia, the first American Indian President of Bolivia. They were discussing how great it is that an indigenous farmer from the countryside could become President. “In Bolivia,” Stewart says, “Here it’s a little rigged.”

    Posted by threemilechild | September 30, 2007, 7:44 pm

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