"Obviously Blessed" Hillary Clinton Has Released 30 Years of Tax Returns. Romney? McCain?
Republicans have their queen of the 1 percent. In the wake of her flip comments about having been "dead broke" and not "truly well off," the GOP and its conservative echo chamber are portraying Hillary Clinton as the reincarnation of Leona Helmsley. Hoping to provide additional fodder for the right, Bloomberg News suggested estate tax supporter Hillary is a hypocrite because of the ways the Clintons manage their finances to reduce their estate tax exposure. The right-wing research group America Rising notified its email list that Secretary Clinton "might be advised to take a lengthy sabbatical from her $200k per pop speaking tour and private shopping sprees at Bergdorfs to try and reconnect with what's happening back here on Earth."
Of course, it is the GOP hoping the American people slept through the last decade here on planet Earth. After all, it was President George W. Bush, then worth $21 million, who described his plan for life after the White House, "I'll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol' coffers." And as it turns out, the Clintons have released over 30 years of tax returns, which means their finances--unlike those of the Romneys and McCains--are no secret.
To be sure, Hillary and Bill Clinton are "obviously blessed." As the New York Times reported during the 2008 presidential primaries, between 2001 and 2008 the Clintons earned a whopping $109 million, almost all of it from speaking fees and book royalties. But because almost all of their earnings are taxed as regular income, the Clintons disproved Leona Helmsley's motto that "only the little people pay taxes."
During that time, the Clintons paid $33.8 million in federal taxes and claimed deductions for $10.2 million in charitable contributions...
In releasing seven years of tax returns, plus a summary of income for last year, the Clinton campaign noted that the couple had disclosed all their income tax records since Mr. Clinton was governor of Arkansas..."The Clintons have now made public 30 years of tax returns, a record matched by few people in public service," said Jay Carson, a campaign spokesman. "None of Hillary Clinton's presidential opponents have revealed anything close to this amount of personal financial information."
Certainly not John McCain or Mitt Romney. And while the details of their finances remained secret, their plans to dramatically slash their own tax bills were quite public.
Thanks to the wealth of his beer heiress wife Cindy, John McCain had the luxury to forget how many homes he owns. But with his proposals to cut income tax rates for the wealthy, slash the capital gains tax rate in half and eliminate the estate tax, President McCain would have delivered a massive windfall to his family for years to come.
Then, of course, there was Mitt Romney, the GOP's once and possibly future White House hopeful. Worth at least a quarter of a billion dollars, the son of an auto company magnate ran on a platform of keeping as much of it away from Uncle Sam as possible.
Thanks to lax campaign laws that tilt the playing field in favor of the rich, Mitt was able to spend $45 million of his own money in his losing effort to secure the GOP nomination in 2008. Hoping to become John McCain's running mate, he parts with the loss of a fifth of his net worth and over two decades of tax returns. As Brian Williams pointed out during a January 2012 debate, "You said during the McCain vetting process you turned over 23 years which you had at the ready because, to quote you, you`re something of a packrat." But in 2012, the American people only get two because, as Mitt helpfully explained two years ago:
"I don't put out which tooth paste I use either. It's not that I have something to hide."
Of course, Mitt Romney had a lot to hide. For starters, few Americans would describe themselves as "part of the 80 to 90 percent of us" who are middle class, when just the "not very much" $374,000 he earned in speaking fees in 2011 put him in the top one percent of income earners. As I noted back in 2012:
It's bad enough that the $250 million man Romney pays less than 15 percent of his income to Uncle Sam each year, a rate well below most middle class families. Worse still, the notorious "carried interest" exemption for private equity managers Romney wants to preserve taxes him not at the ordinary income rate of 35 percent but at the capital gains rate now half of what it was only 15 years ago. (As it turns out, most of Mitt's millions each year come from his controversial former employer, Bain Capital.) On top of his Cayman Island investments and past Swiss bank accounts, Romney has created a $100 million trust fund for his sons - tax free. Thanks to some (apparently legal) chicanery on the part of his former employer, Mitt has also accumulated an IRA worth a reported $100 million. (The Romney camp even complained about that, worrying that recent tax code changes has "created a tax problem" for the former Massachusetts governor and asking, "Who wants to have $100 million in an IRA?") And largely unmentioned, Mitt wants to eliminate the estate tax, a change that would not only save his clan over $80 million, but more than pay for the $45 million of his own money he spent on his 2008 campaign.
Neither McCain nor Romney paid anywhere near the Clintons' 30 percent tax rate from 2001 to 2008. For his part, in 2012 Romney boasted that over the previous decade, "Every year, I've paid at least 13 percent, and if you add, in addition, the amount that goes to charity, why the number gets well above 20 percent." Of course, if you added the Clintons' $10 million in contributions to their own and other charities, why the number gets well above 20 percent--times two.
As the Washington Post reported, in 2000 the Clintons were in debt to the tune of $10 million. Thanks in part to those stratospheric speaking fees, by 2004 those debts were paid off. Regardless, Hillary Clinton is going to need a better approach to putting her new-found status as "truly well-off" if she wants to succeed her husband in the Oval Office. She might start by borrowing from Bill's script. As he put it in 2004:
"You might remember that when I was in office, on occasion, the Republicans were kind of mean to me. But soon as I got out and made money, I began part of the most important group in the world to them. It was amazing. I never thought I'd be so well cared for by the president and the Republicans in Congress. I almost sent them a thank-you note for my tax cuts - until I realized that the rest of you were paying for the bill for it, and then I thought better of it."
Republicans trying to paint any Democratic presidential candidate as "out of touch" with every day Americans should think the better of it, too.