In light of the presidential campaigns currently dominating the news and social spheres, it might be a good idea to look back over some of the past election years and the chaos that surrounded them. One of the biggest issues during most of the recent elections is the idea that candidates should release their tax returns publicly. Donald Trump has essentially refused to release his tax returns in the recent months, and that refusal has sparked many debates over whether or not he is an appropriate candidate for President of the United States. But from where did this desire spring that the American people seem to have for the tax statements of their leaders?
The answer goes back much further than most people in the political spectrum would care to admit, mostly because it involves discussing topics that the majority of political figures would rather the general public forget. The story includes some shady behavior by an ex-president, and it involves one of the most famous political scandals ever uncovered. Unsurprisingly, the story is centered around President Richard Nixon and his iconic quote, “I am not a crook.”
The year was 1969, and Congress voted to remove a piece of the nation’s tax code that gave permission to any former or sitting president to donate documents to a predetermined archive, and that president would be awarded a significant tax deduction for the same year the documents were donated. When Congress decided to repel this provision, they did so under the notion that those presidential papers were already public property, and therefore the president should not be able to gain financial benefits from donating them to the public.
That same year, Nixon donated an alleged 1,000 boxes filled with documents he accrued over his tenure as president to the National Archives, one of the organizations that previously could offer tax deductions for presidential donations. As a result, Nixon claimed a deduction on his tax return for 1969 of over $500,000. It wasn’t until four years later in 1973 that the issue was brought to light during the Watergate scandal. It was discovered that the date for the donation of the documents was March 27, 1969, which was before Congress changed the law. However, the single deed that mentioned the donation wasn’t signed until nine months after Congress repealed the tax provision.
There was an instant clamoring for the truth from all those following the story. Had President Nixon really committed a blatant act of tax fraud right under the noses of Congress? If so, how much did he avoid paying by making his claim to the deduction? The nation attempted to force Nixon to tell the truth, but he simply refused an audit from the IRS and would not make his tax statements public. Shockingly, the IRS agreed to allow Nixon to forgo their audit.
It wasn’t until a reporter by the name of Jack White got the story of his career that the truth came out. In 1973, during the Watergate fiasco, White found a credible source that proved Nixon had paid less than $1,000 in taxes for both 1970 and 1971. During those years, Nixon earned a total of over $800,000, yet he paid taxes equivalent to that of someone earning only $8,000 per year. In light of this new information, and with continued protest from Nixon, the IRS decided to audit his returns for the previous five years.
Nixon ended up resigning only a few months after the story broke, but he did so because of the threat of impeachment for Watergate. He ended up losing close to half his total worth while paying back the IRS for what he owed. In short, the American public demands to see the tax returns of their presidential candidates to protect themselves against another crook.