Monday was the first day to file petitions to get on the March 20 primary ballot. For two wealthy Democrats running for the party’s nomination for Illinois governor, it also was the day they finally chose – after promising on April 14 they would do so – to release some of their tax return information.
Emphasis on the word “some.”
Venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, released three years of summaries of state and federal returns, which showed that he and his wife reported about $16 million in total income last year, paying roughly $4.6 million in state and federal taxes. His personal charitable donations were about $15.3 million, while his foundation donated about $54 million from 2014 to 2016. Businessman Chris Kennedy released partial 2016 returns showing $1.3 million in total income for him and his wife. They paid about $216,000 in state and federal taxes.
Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner hasn’t provided much more. He released in October the cover sheets from his federal and state tax returns, which showed he earned about $90 million in 2016 and paid about $23 million in state and federal taxes. That was down from the $188 million Rauner and his wife, Diana, reported in state taxable income in 2016. The Rauners also made about $6.6 million in charitable contributions last year through their family foundation and other giving.
These are broad sketches of these men’s finances. Full returns go into more detail: Constituents would learn what they claimed in deductions and tax credits; what they paid in real estate taxes; and who candidates are in business with (which could help root out any conflicts of interest). More importantly, full returns give clues to a candidate’s character: Knowing how much and to which charity a candidate gives, for instance, is likely a reflection of his or her values.
Some details are better than nothing – the situation we remain in with President Donald Trump, who has refused to release his returns. But any candidate committed to being a transparent officeholder should willingly release their returns. In the case of Kennedy, Pritzker and Rauner, these men want us to trust them with running state government (which needs some help in the transparency department). Trust is earned, and that is built in part by knowing the character of a person. Given that there isn’t a law requiring candidates to release personal tax returns, willingly releasing them says a lot about the person who wants your vote.
Pritzker in particular is coming off as a hypocrite. In 2016, he derided Trump for not releasing his tax returns as Trump ran for president. But fast forward just a few months, and he seemed to drag his feet when it came to shining a light on his own financial status. He only seemed to be committed to releasing returns when opponent state Sen. Daniel Biss released a commercial comparing Pritzker to Trump, as both have publicly said their returns were “complex” and that led to them not having been released yet.
Biss, by the way, provided five years of his tax returns in April. He reported income of about $33,000 last year, which a campaign spokesman said at the time was lower than previous years because of delayed paychecks during Illinois’ budget impasse. He didn’t owe any federal taxes.
Kennedy, Pritzker and Rauner aren’t the only candidates for governor, of course, but as the wealthiest, they have the most to disclose in financial interests that may color how they would govern. That puts a higher standard on them to release their full returns, even when it’s not required.