March 22, 2004,
In January, as the battle for the Democratic nomination raged in Iowa and New Hampshire, the campaign of retired General Wesley Clark sent a letter to fellow candidate John Kerry. "Release your tax returns for the past five years," the letter asked Kerry. "In the interest of full disclosure for the voting public, join General Clark in making the full public record available to voters."
On January 18, during an interview on ABC's This Week, Kerry was asked to respond. "I began the process of putting out tax returns long before Wesley Clark was a Democrat," Kerry said. "I released all my tax returns for 20 years. I have never not released my tax returns throughout my political career."
The answer seemed simple enough, but it turns out the reality is not so simple. Despite Kerry's claim, it is not at all clear that he has released his tax returns for a significant part of his time in the Senate, especially in recent years. At best, Kerry appears to have released information about his taxes on a sporadic and piecemeal basis.
Unlike Clark, Kerry has not made his tax information available in a public forum, such as his campaign website. A Kerry campaign spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter, saying Kerry has released his returns "every year," promised on Friday to e-mail NRO copies of the candidate's returns for the last five years. The e-mail never arrived, nor did Cutter respond to several follow-up calls.
That leaves a check of news databases as the best way to determine whether Kerry has in fact released information for a given year. And from those sources, the facts about Kerry's taxes appear spotty at best.
Looking at the last five years, as Clark requested, there are no published indications that Kerry has made his full tax returns public for the years 2001, 2000, 1999, and 1998. As for 2002, it appears that last December, at the time Kerry made an $850,000 loan to his then-struggling campaign, he apparently released his 2002 return to some reporters.
From the record available, it appears that Kerry has released some information, and some full returns, from the years before 1998. There are indications in the press that Kerry told at least some journalists his 1997 taxable income and charitable donation totals. In April 1997, Kerry gave the Boston Globe his 1996 returns. And during his hard-fought 1996 reelection race, Kerry released returns from 1990 through 1995.
In his first race for reelection, in 1990, Kerry criticized opponent Jim Rappaport for not releasing his tax returns. "The real issue is why Jim Rappaport won't come clean with the citizens of Massachusetts," Kerry told the Boston Globe. "What's he hiding?"
As for the details that are known about Kerry's finances, in 2002, he reportedly had an income of $144,091. He paid $29,946 in federal taxes, $7,286 in Massachusetts state taxes, and gave $18,600 to charity. The Associated Press also reported that Kerry filed separately from his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who has a fortune estimated at more than half a billion dollars.
In 1997, Kerry reportedly had a taxable income of $217,338 and gave $21,795 to charity. In 1996, according to the Boston Globe, Kerry had a taxable income of $143,795 and paid $31,328 in federal taxes and $8,235 in Massachusetts state taxes. He donated $14,325 to charity.
Kerry's returns from 1995 and earlier, before his marriage to Heinz, have sometimes attracted criticism over the issue of charitable giving. In 1995, according to published reports, Kerry reported a taxable income of $126,179, and charitable contributions of $0. In 1994, he reported income of $127,884, and charitable donations of $2,039. In 1993, he reported income of $130,345, and contributions of $175. In 1992, he reported income of $127,646, and contributions of $820. In 1991, he reported income of $113,857, and contributions of $0.
As far as Bush is concerned, in 1991, the future president, then a private citizen, reportedly had income of $179,591, and charitable contributions of $28,236. In 1992, Bush reported income of $212.313, and contributions of $31,914. In 1993, Bush reported income of $610,772, and contributions of $31,292. In 1994, Bush reported income of $474,937 and in 1995, income of $419,481. Published reports at that time did not list Bush's charitable contributions for those two years.
Bush first released his tax returns in April, 1994, when he challenged Texas Governor Ann Richards. Bush released returns going back to 1991, he said, because those were the years that Richards had been in office. His action spurred a number of negative stories, as reporters and Richards criticized business arrangements detailed in the returns.
It is not clear whether Kerry's returns, if he chooses to release them, will reveal much about his financial arrangements. But it does seem clear that Kerry can expect criticism from Republicans unless he releases his returns for the last several years. "The president has shown a consistent willingness to be upfront and to disclose these types of things to the American people," says one GOP official. "It remains to be seen whether John Kerry will follow that high example."