Showing that some Republicans have learned their lesson from Mitt Romney's failed 2012 presidential campaign, Jeb Bush released 33 years’ worth of tax returns on June 30. As many will recall, Romney did his absolute best to avoid releasing any tax information, finally caving and showing reporters only his 2011 return. Jeb likely wanted to avoid a repeat of that mistake and get ahead of potential stories about his effective tax rate and income he earned from questionable Wall Street connections.
The details of Jeb's tax returns aren't all that interesting. He paid a high effective tax rate most years (averaging between 34 and 36 percent). He is worth over $22 million, most of which was accumulated after he left office as governor of Florida. That income was primarily from speaking engagements (each of which earned him less than Chelsea Clinton, he noted wryly on his campaign page). He also consulted with several financial firms, including Lehman Brothers, Barclays, and a shady Florida businessman who has fled the country. Overall, however, his returns are decidedly less complex than Romney's, and presumably, this issue will be far less of a drag on his campaign.
That's not to say everyone was satisfied with Bush's disclosures. The Huffington Post wanted to hear more about his Wall Street earnings, most of which are disguised as compensation paid from companies Bush formed. There are questions about who exactly paid Bush and for what. Bush's campaign disclosed some data to select reporters, according to The Huffington Post, which is how we know about his involvement with scandal-ridden Lehman's and Barclays. Despite these reservations, it's hard to argue that Bush hasn't tried to be a lot more transparent than Romney and most of his other rivals for the GOP nomination.
Which brings us to the likely Democratic challenger. Hillary Clinton has yet to release her tax returns. Clinton's returns will almost certainly be more complex and show how both she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have continued to enjoy extremely high earnings from speaking, consulting, and book sales. The Clintons' tax returns have always proved to be interesting fodder for their opponents, and Hillary likely only added to that when she talked about how she doesn't feel rich (even though she is probably worth more than Bush). A lot of Hillary's tax returns are already public because of her husband's presidential campaign, his years in office, and disclosures made by her failed 2008 campaign. (The Huffington Post points out that if she just releases returns from 2007 through 2013, she will equal the 33 years available from Bush.)
Tax returns can tell a lot about a candidate, but they seldom play as large of a role in a presidential race as they did in 2012. President Obama had enormous success attacking Romney's lack of transparency and, later, the less than 15 percent rate the wealthy businessman paid on his income. Democrats won't enjoy that advantage this time, even if the Republican nominee is the relatively well-off Bush. In fact, thanks to Hillary's gaffe on wealth and her own high net worth, it might be Republicans who are able to use financial disclosures to paint their opponent as out of touch with middle-class voters.
Tax Analysts Blog
With Jeb's Tax Returns Out of the Way, Attention Turns to Hillary's
Posted on Jul 14, 2015