Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

By Matt Clary December 16, 2011

DNC says presidential candidates usually release tax returns but Romney won't

More than one political opponent has attempted to make an issue of Mitt Romney’s personal fortune.

Romney’s years leading the private equity firm Bain Capital — which sometimes made money by laying off workers and closing businesses it had acquired — have led to charges that he is a creature of Wall Street and disconnected from the lives of average Americans.

According to the financial disclosure required of all presidential candidates by the Federal Election Commission, Romney’s personal fortune is between $190 million and $250 million. All presidential aspirants are required to file Office of Government Ethics Form 278 with the Federal Election Commission.

Details about Romney’s wealth are scarce, however, because he is only required to fill out the standard disclosure form about his assets. And unlike some past and present presidential candidates, Romney has not released his income tax returns during this campaign or in previous races for state and federal office.

Another GOP contender, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has called on Romney to go beyond the legal requirements and release his tax returns. Perry released his own returns in October 2011.

The Democratic National Committee raised the tax return issue in a video released earlier this month, "What Is Mitt Romney Hiding?"

In it, the DNC makes the point that Romney’s father, then-Michigan Gov. George Romney, released his tax returns during the 1968 primary campaign when he sought the Republican presidential nomination. George Romney put pressure on his opponents by releasing 12 years of income tax returns in November 1967.

The DNC narrator states in the video: "Traditionally, presidential candidates release their tax returns. ... Mitt Romney still won’t."

So, do presidential candidates really have a tradition of releasing their tax returns? And has Mitt Romney refused to do so?

What constitutes a tradition?

In the post-Watergate era, many, but not all, primary candidates have released their personal tax returns, in some cases going back decades. Here's a sampling of some recent elections, based on news coverage, publicly available returns and a list put together by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that promotes ethics and accountability. Presidents and vice presidents routinely release their returns in office.


Featured Fact-check

Tax returns were an issue in the 2008 primary campaign. Sen. Barack Obama went first, releasing returns dating back to 2000 in March 2008. Sen. Hillary Clinton waited until April to release tax records dating back to 2000 for herself and former President Bill Clinton. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., also released tax returns during the primary, but Joe Biden didn’t release his returns until September, when Obama selected him as a running mate. John Edwards did not release tax returns, though he had released a decade of returns in September 2004, when he became John Kerry’s running mate.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who eventually won the Republican nomination, released his individual tax returns in April. Cindy McCain, his wife, initially refused but then released summaries for 2006 and 2007.

Romney declined to release returns, as did former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who both had released tax returns during earlier runs for state and municipal office.

All the major Democratic contenders for the nomination released at least one year of tax returns, a list that included Kerry and Edwards, as well as Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, Richard Gephardt, Dennis Kucinich and Joseph Lieberman.

George W. Bush largely cleared the GOP field early in the primary season. He and running mate Richard Cheney were the only Republicans to release returns. Vice President Al Gore and his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, then-U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, of New Jersey, both released returns as well. Ralph Nader, whose third party candidacy played a crucial role in deciding the outcome of the general election, did not release his returns.

Among GOP primary candidates in 1996, Sens. Bob Dole, Lamar Alexander and Jack Kemp released their tax returns. Publisher Steve Forbes, columnist Pat Buchanan and Sen. Richard Lugar did not.

In April of that year, Bill Clinton released tax returns dating back to 1980. His closest rival for the nomination, former California governor Jerry Brown, did not.

The top two Democrats in the race to face Vice President Bush, Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson, both released returns.

The controversy over tax returns fell on the vice presidential candidates when Geraldine Ferraro and her husband, John Zaccaro, acquiesced to pressure and released their individual tax returns. After they did, the couple ended up paying more than $50,000 in back taxes.

President Ronald Reagan, who like Romney had refused to release his tax returns during previous campaigns for state and federal office, relented in August and released his tax returns for 1979 after it became clear he was the likely nominee. Reagan’s chief rival for the 1980 nomination, George H.W. Bush, had released his in April, pressuring Reagan to do the same.

Jimmy Carter and President Gerald Ford both released their 1975 tax returns and it was noted that an investment tax credit signed into law by Ford resulted in a significant tax windfall for a peanut warehouse owned by Carter.

Is it true that Romney "won’t" release his tax returns?

Romney’s camp did not respond to questions about if and when he would release his income tax returns. In response to the question when the Perry camp raised the issue, a Romney spokeswoman said the campaign would revisit the question during the next tax-filing season, presumably in April.

Our Ruling

Of 34 presidential and vice presidential candidates reviewed above, only seven -- Brown, Buchanan, Huckabee, Forbes, Giuliani, Lugar, Nader -- declined to release personal tax returns. So while most follow the practice, not all do. We rate the DNC’s claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

U.S. Office of Government Ethics, legal advisory, April 19, 2011

U.S. Office of Government Ethics, 2012 presidential candidate filings, Dec. 1, 2011

Texas Tribune, "Perry Calls on Wealthy Romney to Release Tax Returns," Oct. 26, 2011

Democratic National Committee, "What Is Mitt Romney Hiding?" Dec. 6, 2012

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Romney Reveals 12-Year Income," Nov. 26, 1967

New York Times, "Clintons Made $109 Million in Last 8 Years," April 5, 2008

New York Times, "Obamas Earned $4.2 Million in 2007," April 16, 2008

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, "CREW Urges Presidential Candidates to Disclose Tax Returns,"March 26, 2008

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Matt Clary

DNC says presidential candidates usually release tax returns but Romney won't

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up