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.