Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s reluctance to release copies of his income tax returns has transparency advocates calling for Congress to make tax form disclosure a legal requirement for presidential candidates. But when asked to release their tax documents, only one of the four Maine candidates for U.S. House of Representatives agreed.

Top: Maine's U.S. Sens. Angus King, an independent, and Susan Collins, a Republican. Bottom: Maine's U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District

Top: Maine’s U.S. Sens. Angus King, an independent, and Susan Collins, a Republican. Bottom: Maine’s U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District File Photos

All four members of the congressional delegation – U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, who are not up for re-election, and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin, who are running for re-election in November – declined to release copies of their 2015 tax records. They issued a joint statement with links to federally required financial disclosures that are posted online.

However, those disclosures provide only a limited picture of a member’s income and do not include tax payments or deductions, charitable contributions and other financial data.

Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival, has released copies of her tax records, as has every presidential candidate, both Republican and Democrat, for the last 40 years. But Trump’s resistance to releasing his tax records has elevated the public debate about how much information voters should have when it comes to those running for public office.

In their joint statement responding to the request to share their tax returns, the delegation said:

“As members of Congress, we believe that transparency is a vital component of a healthy, functioning democracy. In that spirit, and in accordance with the law, each of us files an annual financial disclosure report that is supplemented by additional monthly transaction reports.

“These documents – which detail our sources of income and that of our spouses as well as properties we own, investments held, mortgages and additional liabilities, and, among other things, financial transactions – paint a thorough, detailed, and well-rounded picture of our financial assets and backgrounds for the people of Maine. We support this practice of transparency and will continue to fully comply with it.”

SEN. KING DISCLOSED RETURN IN RACE

Scott Ogden, a spokesman for King, noted that the independent senator released his federal tax return when he ran for Senate in 2012, and said King would do so again when he runs for re-election in 2018. Collins, a Republican who is up for re-election in 2020, did not offer any further comments.

Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s 1st District, declined to make additional comment. Poliquin, a 2nd District Republican, said the federal disclosures he is required to file provide for the transparency voters need to decide if he has conflicts of interest in Washington. “It’s very complete, up to date and very thorough,” he said.

Only Poliquin’s challenger, former state Sen. Emily Cain, an Orono Democrat, released her 2015 tax returns to the newspaper. She did so on condition that copies of the actual tax documents not be posted on the internet.

Cain’s Form 1040 tax return, filed jointly with her husband, Daniel Williams, shows the couple together earned just over $125,000 and paid $16,620 in federal income taxes, or a tax rate of just over 13 percent. The return also shows Cain received $10,000 in payments as a consultant but also had expenses for that work that left her with a net profit of just over $6,000. The couple also donated $2,210 to charity.

“Like many Mainers, Emily and Danny are private people and don’t want their personal information online,” Cain’s campaign spokesman, Daniel Gleick, said in a prepared statement. “However, Emily is also deeply committed to a transparent and ethical government, which is why she worked with Gov. LePage to pass groundbreaking ethics reforms and is now the only federal candidate or elected official in Maine willing to share her taxes.”

Pingree’s challenger, Mark Holbrook, a Republican from Brunswick, failed to respond to repeated requests for his tax return.

The disclosure forms referred to by the delegation show details of lawmakers’ investments and properties, as well as those held by their spouses. But they do not give a precise picture of how much each elected official makes from outside sources of income, as the forms report a range of income values and do not disclose a specific amount.

TAX PROFILE MISSING

Unlike a federal tax return, the disclosures reveal nothing about how much each elected official pays in taxes or their tax rate, nor do they show how much they donate to charity.

For example, on King’s fiscal year 2015 disclosure he lists income from a number of sources, including a mutual fund that paid between $100,000 and $1 million in dividends from the investment in 2015. King’s disclosure also shows which stock he owns and the stock owned by his wife, Mary Herman. In the disclosures, members list all assets worth more than $1,000 as well as any accounts with balances greater than $5,000, and any source of income that’s more than $200.

Collins’ disclosure also shows her stocks and bonds, as well as the stocks and bonds owned by her husband, Thomas Daffron. Again, the disclosure gives a range of values rather than specifics. Properties owned by federal lawmakers are listed on the disclosures, but not with specific values.

Poliquin’s disclosure, for example, shows that he owns seven properties, including one at the Popham Beach Club that is valued between $1 million and $5 million. Poliquin lists a Bank of America checking account with between $1,000 and $15,000. Likewise, Pingree’s disclosure forms show that she owns Nebo Lodge, an inn and restaurant on North Haven, valued between $1 million and $5 million.

Richard Skinner, a policy analyst at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that advocates for government transparency, said the organization is urging Congress make it a legal requirement for presidential candidates to disclose their federal income tax returns.

He said that while lawmakers in Congress are required to provide limited financial data in their monthly and annual financial disclosures, those reports are far more useful when combined with a tax return.

But Congress has not required its own members to disclose tax returns.

“It is not at all normal practice and maybe it should be,” Skinner said. “It would give people a lot more information and certainly people would be able to do a better job at judging conflicts of interest, people would be able to do a better job at seeing how people are complying or not complying with tax law.”

SACRIFICING TOO MUCH PRIVACY?

Skinner said arguments against candidates and elected officials being forced to disclose their tax filing information include the idea that people in public life “are already sacrificing an awful lot of their privacy.”

Tax return disclosure requirements could prompt some people not to run for office, “not because there is anything sinister in their tax returns, but because they would rather not have it all spelled out in front of the public,” Skinner said.

He said when a candidate such as Trump refuses to release tax information, it raises questions.

“I think there is inevitably going to be speculation about why is somebody going through such lengths, taking a pretty significant political hit to avoid doing something everyone else has done,” Skinner said of Trump. “A certain majority of the tax returns don’t always paint a terribly flattering picture.”

Skinner said that was likely the case for Clinton, who did release her tax returns, which showed that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are multimillionaires and have been paid exceptionally large sums for giving speeches. The returns also showed the Clintons donate large sums to charity.

Joe Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project, prepared by the nonpartisan Tax Analyst group, said he knows of no members of Congress who regularly disclose their tax returns. He said he would have been surprised if Maine’s congressional delegation agreed to share their returns with the public.

“It is definitely the exception and not the rule when it happens – the same could be said of governors,” Thorndike said. “I’m not at all surprised that they all said ‘no,’ because they are in good company when they do that.”

The Tax History Project archives online all the tax returns that have been released by presidential candidates, going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1937 tax return.

Thorndike, like Skinner with the Sunlight Foundation, agreed that tax returns coupled with the federal disclosure forms would give voters a more complete picture of their elected officials’ finances.

Convincing Congress to require its own members to make their tax returns public would be a major political challenge, but Thorndike said there may be enough support to require the disclosure for presidential candidates.

“I would welcome a change to the law that would require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns and then we could see how it would play out,” Thorndike said. “But in general terms, I think more disclosure from our elected officials is better than less disclosure.”