For the past few years, Democrats have been obsessed with tax returns. Way back in 2012, you may recall, Democrats tried to make an issue about Mitt Romney’s tax returns – though he eventually released them.

Before that, Harry Reid, then the Senate majority leader, even lied on the floor of the U.S. Senate, claiming that Romney didn’t pay taxes at all in 2010 or 2011. He never apologized for it; indeed, he’s boasted about it since, though it was an action for which his colleagues should have officially censured him.

These days, Democrats are still complaining about Donald Trump never releasing his tax returns during last year’s presidential election. When their allies in the media have managed to grab snippets of information about Trump’s taxes, they’ve treated it monumentally – even though in the end they’ve been big flops. Here in Maine, Democrats haven’t made much of a fuss about it, but it’s not for lack of opportunity.

Last legislative session, Democrats had a chance to pass a bill – sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham – forcing future presidential and vice-presidential candidates to post their tax returns in order to qualify for the Maine ballot. You might think such a bill would die on a party-line vote in the Senate, where Republicans have the majority, and you’d be right. However, it didn’t pass the House, either – many Democrats joined with their Republican colleagues to kill it there.

It’s curious to see so many Democrats, with so much energy pouring into their party from the anti-Trump movement, pass up a chance to hold the man accountable and stay on message. Punting on this issue could well alienate much of their base, and lead progressive activists of all stripes to wonder what, if anything, they really stand for. After all, if Maine Democrats aren’t willing to stand up to Trump on this issue, can you trust them to stand up on any issue?

Then again, if you take a look at the current Democratic gubernatorial field, it begins to make more sense.


It would certainly be fascinating to flip through the tax returns of candidates running for governor next year. Some of them may be straightforward, but others could be quite interesting. They’ve got one longtime lobbyist, Betsy Sweet, running – seeing her returns could give us a hint into just how much money she’s made as a paid advocate for various causes. It might seem like Janet Mills’ tax returns would be relatively simple, and for recent years when she’s been serving as attorney general, that may well be. Before that, she was in private practice for a long time, and knowing more about the state of her finances could be revealing.

Of course, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: Candidates from both parties would serve the people of Maine by releasing at least one year’s worth of tax returns, to give a window into the state of their finances. Right now, we know little. Sitting legislators have to declare their sources of income in an annual form, so we know that Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, for example, works at an excavation company and in real estate – but not how much he makes.

Tax returns don’t show everything; they’re only a glimpse of a person’s finances. If a candidate owns a business, their individual return wouldn’t necessarily show the value of that business – only what they themselves make. Or, if a candidate had wealthy family members and could access their assets, that might not show up in an individual return, either.

It hasn’t been a tradition in the past for gubernatorial candidates to release their tax returns, but it’s time to begin the practice.

Tax returns would give voters real data, rather than just rhetoric. Isn’t that something the people deserve?

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jimfossel

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