Protesters flocked to Washington for the Tax March on April 15 -- more than 25,000, according to organizer estimates -- to demand that President Trump release his tax returns.
The march followed a rally on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, during which Democratic lawmakers called for a more equitable tax system.
Trump’s refusal to release his returns was the most frequently cited motivation among protesters who spoke to Tax Analysts, most of whom emphasized a need for greater transparency. Most interviewees were from metropolitan Washington or Baltimore, but some said they had traveled from as far away as Columbus, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and Colorado.
Several attendees said they were driven to protest by concern over potential business-related ethical conflicts Trump might have and suspicion that his decision not to release his returns suggests there’s something he wants to hide.
There was a broad consensus among protesters that the tax return issue illustrates what they perceive as Trump’s general untrustworthiness. Interviewees’ speculation about what his returns would show ranged from the politically embarrassing to the illegal, including evidence of tax avoidance or evasion, conflicts of interest, foreign entanglements, and a lack of charitable giving.
A few rally attendees held signs connecting tax reform to Trump’s unreleased tax returns. Other signs bore messages simply urging Trump to release his returns, questioning whether he pays taxes, or raising concerns that he is connected to the Russian government.
Lisa Matthews of Chantilly, Virginia, carried one of several signs made of transparent material. But her request for transparency stopped short of full public disclosure. “I don’t believe that I need to see his tax returns,” she said. “I believe that the [congressional] committees that are looking into his dealings and his family’s associations, they’re the right ones” to be reviewing them.
Judy Walter, an attorney from Riverdale, Maryland, suggested that Congress subpoena Trump’s returns. Trump has presented himself as having business acumen, she said, but “his tax returns may show he’s no great businessman at all.”
Ellen Lodwick of Silver Spring, Maryland, said, “I’m curious to know what his business involvement is, what his true income is. I just feel like there are a lot of sleazy things going on, that he’s hiding a lot.” Lodwick, a former researcher, added that she is “interested to see what he’s invested in, which is going to affect how he approaches governing.”
Irene Duffy, who said that growing up in New York made her familiar with Trump’s business dealings, said she also attended the march because of her concern for income equality, which she said her group of about half a dozen attendees shared.
National Tax March executive committee member Delvone Michael gave Tax Analysts the 25,000-plus estimate. The National Park Service said it does not estimate event attendance, as did the District of Columbia Police Department public information office, which referred those questions to the event organizers.
After rallying on the Capitol building’s west lawn, protesters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, some lingering by the Trump International Hotel to chant. It ended in the field south of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Protesters were peaceful throughout the event, in contrast to the violence that broke out the same day in Berkeley, California, though reports indicate that had little to do with tax issues. Berkeley was not an official location listed by Tax March organizers.
Wendy Warren, who came to the march from Baltimore, said she has personal experience with disclosing tax and financial information because of concerns about conflicts of interest. For her business as a furniture manufacturers’ representative, she has to show her tax returns and financial statements to the city and state in order to have a woman-owned business certification -- for the purpose of making sure she doesn’t have any conflicts of interest.
The return “shows us where [Trump is] getting his money and where his interests lie and if there are any conflicts of interests,” Warren said. “Is he getting money from Russian banks? . . . Is he hiding money? Did he get a loan from someone because he couldn’t get a loan from an American bank for his investments and his companies? . . . If he’s doing any kind of tax reform, if he’s giving contractors business, we need to know if it’s padding his pockets as well -- as citizens, we need to know that.”
John Hamilton of New York, attending the march while on a trip to the area, told Tax Analysts that his friends have said, “‘If our president doesn’t pay taxes, why should I?’” Hamilton said taxes can be a “pain . . . but they’re important in order to maintain the foundation of this country. So I think that having our president be transparent with his tax returns will also inspire others to do their part as American citizens.”
Tax reform was on the mind of Peter Tait from Silver Spring, Maryland, whose sign read, “No Tax Returns? No Tax Reform!” Trump’s simultaneous desire for tax reform and refusal to release his own tax returns is hypocritical, Tait said, arguing that tax reform is likely to benefit corporations and the wealthy, and that the public should see how Trump would be affected by it.
“In my opinion, he has no right to ask for any of this until he shows us what he’s hiding in his tax returns,” Tait said of Trump’s pursuit of tax reform. “I’m sure there’s a great deal.”
David van den Berg contributed to this article.
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