The White House Rule: No Tax Returns, No Job
As ethics counsel to the current president and his predecessor, we scrutinized their tax returns before they were released every year. We also worked with our colleagues to review many tax returns of presidential nominees for cabinet and other positions. Based on the few pages of Donald J. Trump’s 1995 tax returns that have become public, we have come to the conclusion that no one in his position would have been nominated, much less confirmed by the Senate, during either of the administrations we served. The same is true of any modern administration of a president from either party.
作为现任总统及其前任的道德问题法务顾问，我们每年都会在他们的纳税申报表被公布前审查这些表格。我们还会和一些同事合作，审查总统提名的内阁成员人选以及其他人选的许多份纳税申报表。针对已获公开的唐纳德·J·特朗普(Donald J. Trump)的那薄薄几页1995年申报表，我们得出的结论是：在我们为这两位总统领导的政府服务期间，任何一个处于他这种境地的人都不会获得提名，更不要说在参议院得到通过了。这个结论也适用于不论是由出身于共和党还是民主党的总统所领导的任何一届现代政府。
If a presidential candidate cannot meet that standard, then we question his qualifications for the highest office in the land.
In both the Bush and Obama administrations, a bad attitude about paying taxes was a deal killer. Both of us saw instances of nominations that were doomed by the arguably legal but unsavory use of tax loopholes, as well as by the failure to pay Social Security taxes, the taking of excessive deductions for home offices or the sidestepping of sales taxes on out-of-state purchases. Explaining to the Senate and to the American people how a billionaire could have a $916 million “loss carry-forward” that potentially allowed him to not pay taxes for over a decade, perhaps for as long as 18 years, would have been far too difficult for the White House when many hard-working Americans turn a third or more of their earnings over to the government.
Any nominee who had told either of us that he had a “fiduciary responsibility” as a businessman or to his family to pay as little tax as possible, as Mr. Trump put it, would have been told to stop wasting the president’s time. People who believe they have a legal duty to put self-interest before the public interest don’t belong in public service. Besides, these are personal tax returns we are talking about. There is no such thing as a “fiduciary duty” as a businessman to oneself. That, as we’ve said before, is called greed.
There is also no fiduciary duty to one’s family to minimize taxes by taking advantage of loopholes. Quite to the contrary, many of us want to set an example that teaches our children the responsibilities as well as the enormous benefits of being an American.
Even in large public companies, the argument that there is a fiduciary duty to shareholders to structure deals to minimize taxes is false. The law does not require corporate officers and directors to avoid taxes, much less to aggressively take advantage of strategies to eliminate them for years to come.
Some corporate directors and chief executives make this bogus fiduciary duty argument to justify selfish decisions to use loopholes, such as the infamous “tax inversion” tactic of moving a corporate headquarters to Ireland or some other tax haven, sending revenue and jobs out of the United States. We now know that when Mr. Trump complains about such legal but unpatriotic tax- avoidance tactics, he in effect is complaining about himself.
The final deal killer here is Mr. Trump’s objection to the release of even the limited information that has come out, and his refusal to disclose more. At the White House we asked nominees for Senate-confirmed positions to sign a waiver so we could get tax information from the I.R.S., and we also asked nominees to be ready to provide their tax returns to the Senate upon request. Several of the committees most important to national security and the economy — such as the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Finance — routinely insist on receiving tax returns. Neither of us can recall a single nominee who refused, and with good reason. If the White House were to so much as delay in disclosing the tax returns of a nominee, much less tell the Senate that a nominee did not want to disclose them, the nomination would be dead on arrival.
特朗普甚至不愿公布已被披露出来的有限信息，而且拒绝公布更多信息，这是扼杀仕途的大杀器。在白宫，我们曾让需经参议院批准的一些职位的被提名人签署弃权书，这样一来我们就能从美国国税局(IRS)处获得他们的纳税信息；我们还让被提名人做好一旦收到要求便将纳税申报表提交给参议院的准备。对国家安全和经济而言最重要的几个委员会——比如军事委员会(Armed Services Committee)和财政委员会(Finance Committee)——通常坚持要求收到纳税申报表。在我们俩的记忆中，从没有任何一个被提名人以说得通的理由拒绝提交。如果白宫如此这般地拖延公布某个被提名人的纳税申报表的时间——更别说是告知参议院被提名人不愿公布这些表格了——提名便会胎死腹中。
Scrutiny of nominees’ returns is exacting. George W. Bush’s first Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, made headlines when the Senate’s review of his returns resulted in his amending them to correct errors for three years and pay a nominal sum in back taxes. President Obama’s current Treasury Secretary, Jacob J. Lew, was required to provide a full six years of returns before he was confirmed.
对被提名人纳税情况的审查十分严格。乔治·W·布什(George W. Bush)的第一位财政部长保罗·奥尼尔(Paul O'Neill)曾因参议院审查其纳税申报表——导致他修正了三年间的表格，并补缴了一笔微不足道的税款——而登上新闻头条。奥巴马总统当前的财政部长雅各布·J·卢(Jacob J. Lew)在其任命被参议院批准前，曾被要求提交整整六年的纳税申报表。
No presidential nominee with Mr. Trump’s tax situation, his years of undisclosed tax returns, and his attitude toward paying taxes could have been approved by the Senate. Indeed, no president would have dared nominate him. All of us should weigh that heavily in assessing Mr. Trump’s fitness for the Oval Office.