Ethics and Democracy

Demanding Trump’s Tax Returns


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In a break from 40 years of precedent, Trump continues to refuse to release his tax returns. The release of tax returns has become an important tradition in American democracy—it demonstrates that a presidential nominee does not have conflicts of interests that would prevent them from fulfilling their duties as President. This precedent is doubly important for Donald Trump, given his vast global financial interests.

The good news is that Congress has already passed a law to protect Americans from executive branch conflicts of interest. In order to protect the American public from corruption, Congress empowered itself in 1924 to obtain tax returns from executive branch employees, including the President. It has been used before, including to obtain Richard Nixon’s tax returns. Until we see Trump’s tax returns, we cannot be certain that foreign governments don’t have leverage over Trump that can be used to influence American policy. The integrity of American democracy is at stake here, and Congress needs to defend it.

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SAMPLE CALL DIALOGUE

Caller: Good morning/afternoon! Can you let me know what [Member of Congress]’s position is on releasing Trump’s tax returns?

OPTION 1: SUPPORTS THE REQUEST OF DONALD TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS

Staffer: Thank you for calling! [Member of Congress] thinks it is absolutely necessary that Donald Trump release his tax returns. It would clarify many of the questions we have about Trump’s conflicts of interest.

Caller: That’s fantastic! Donald Trump is the only president in our modern history not to release his tax returns. The American people deserve to know whether the president is following the law like the rest of us, is not secretly benefiting financially from his own policies, and that he is not beholden to foreign powers, including countries that threaten American interests. We have no way of knowing any of this without seeing Donald Trump’s tax returns. If [Member of Congress] really cares about the integrity of our democracy, will he/she also commit to signing onto the letter being led by Congressman Pascrell, instructing Congress to uses its existing legal authority to obtain Trump’s returns

Staffer: I will certainly pass on your concerns to [Member of Congress].

Caller: Please do, and please take down my contact information to let me know if anything changes. I hope to see [Member of Congress]’s name on the Pascrell letter.

OPTION 2: OPPOSES THE REQUEST OF DONALD TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS

Staffer: Thank you for calling! [Member of Congress] opposes the attempt to request and release the President’s tax returns. We think it’s time to end this partisan witch hunt and move on to the real issues.

Caller: That is very alarming to hear. We do not know if Donald Trump is in the pocket of foreign governments without seeing his tax returns. He has already had three aides leave his campaign or administration, including his national security advisor, over hidden ties to Russia. When Donald Trump makes foreign policy, we don’t know whether he’s doing it for the good of the American people or to pad his bottom line or, worse yet, because he’s in debt to another country. It is sad that [Member of Congress] wants to help Donald Trump cover up his financial dealings.

Staffer: The request for tax returns is a political attack from Democrats. Trump has already done everything necessary to prevent conflicts of interests. [Member of Congress] is focused on solving more important problems.

Caller: This isn’t a political issue. This is about preventing corruption in our government. Congress felt that this was important enough that it passed a law in 1924 allowing congressional committees to obtain tax returns, including from the President. In fact, Congress has already used this authority in the past, including to get President Nixon’s tax returns in order to clarify doubts about unpaid taxes. If [Member of Congress] really cares about the integrity of our democracy, will he/she also commit to signing onto the letter being led by Congressman Pascrell, instructing Congress to uses its existing legal authority to obtain Trump’s returns?

Staffer: I will certainly pass on your concerns to [Member of Congress].

Caller: Please do, and please take down my contact information to let me know if anything changes. I hope [Member of Congress] does the right thing.

OPTION 3: DODGES / HAS NO POSITION

Staffer: Thank you for calling! I have no idea what his/her position is, but I’m happy to take down your concerns.

Caller: That’s disappointing to hear—this is a very important issue for the integrity of our democracy. Every president in the past forty years has willingly released their tax returns. When Richard Nixon did not, Congress used its authority to release his returns. The American people deserve to know whether the president is following the law like the rest of us, that he is not secretly benefiting from his own proposals, and that he is not beholden to foreign powers, including countries that threaten American interests. We have no way of knowing any of this without seeing Donald Trump’s tax returns. When Donald Trump makes foreign policy, we don’t know whether he’s doing it for the good of the American people or to pad his bottom line or, worse yet, because he’s in debt to another country.

Staffer: I didn’t know that but I’m happy to take down your concerns.

Caller: Thank you. Please pass along to [Member of Congress] that he/she needs to make sure the president is upholding the integrity of the United States. I expect [Member of Congress] to do two things to prove that he/she is on my side here:

Sign-on to the letter being circulated Congressman Pascrell instructing Congress to obtain Trump’s tax returns.

Speak out publicly demanding that Trump release his tax returns.

Will [Member of Congress] take these two steps to protect his constituents?

Staffer: I will certainly pass on your concerns to [Member of Congress].

Caller: Please do, and please take down my contact information to let me know when [Member of Congress] has made up his mind. I’m eager to hear what he decides.