Thank you, Donald Trump! You’ve shown us how inadequate the 1978 Ethics Law is.

Here’s an idea for bringing about some sorely needed unity between the two parties, on January 20th, when (Hillary Clinton) the next President takes office, I propose that (she) they immediately sit down with the leaders of the House and Senate to amend the 1978 Ethics in Government Act with a new “Trump Rule” to account for newly discovered inadequacies in financial disclosure requirements. Shouldn’t be too difficult, since he’s on the bad side of both parties.

The “Trump Rule” can be very simple
Any candidate running for the highest office of the land MUST make a full financial disclosure to the public, which should go beyond the Personal Financial Disclosure (PFD) filings that candidates have used up until now and include full tax returns for themselves, their spouse, and any non-publicly traded entity in which they have a financial interest in.

Limiting this new law only to people seeking the presidency (rather than extending it people seeking seats in the House and Senate) is appropriate, given the extraordinary amount of power vested in the individual who occupies the Oval Office.

Why do we need a new law?
When Donald Trump announced that he had filed the largest disclosure in U.S. history, it was his own campaign that noted that the forms he was presented with were not designed for a man of his “massive wealth”. This should have triggered alarm bells. Documenting wealth was never the purpose for requiring candidates to make these disclosures.

The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 requires political candidates to file a PFD with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in order to help prevent and identify real and potential conflicts of interest a public servant may have, by requiring candidates to:

file an annual financial disclosure report… containing specified information including: (1) sources and amounts of income, gifts, and reimbursements; (2) the identity and approximate value of property held and liabilities owned;

I’m going to give Trump the benefit of doubt and say that it’s of no fault of his own that his PFD does not contain adequate information, but instead exposes a shortcoming of the 1978 law which needs to be addressed.

The New York Times recently investigated and reported that while his filings indicated that he and his companies owed over $315 million, that they were able to unearth debts of more than double that amount. This should make it clear that there is an inadequany in law.

Therefore, I think that we should all contact our Senators and Representative to amend and expand the 1978 law. My thought is that upon acceptance of the nomination to enter the presidential race (post-convention), each candidate should be required publicly disclose their six most recent tax returns (including those of their spouse, and any related entities), as they were submitted to the IRS.

Why six?
If a smaller number was used, it would be easier for someone intent on deceiving the public to restructure their finances for a year or two in order to show a tax return that they hope will meet the publics approval. Requiring a longer look-back period would make it much more difficult for a dishonest candidate to hide meaningful data.

Being “too rich” should not be an excuse
Donald Trump, his children, campaign staff and surrogates all say that his tax returns are far too complex for the general public to understand. Thankfully, we don’t have to understand them. The American Institute of CPA’s has over 412,000 members in their ranks, and while the numbers on Trump’s tax returns might have a few more digits than many of them are used to, those professionals certainly have the skillset to analyze his tax returns and explain their findings.

What would we see?
While some items would be less material than others, tax returns contain a wealth of information that the public could use to evaluate their candidates. For most politicians, a candidates income shouldn’t figure into their candidacy, but when someone running for office makes their business success a part of their platform, there should be a duty to provide more evidence than “because I said so”.

Far more importantly, is that it would provide insight into each candidates financial well-being, by assessing the assets they own, and vitally, the moneys they owe. An unsustainable debt load can send up red flags for a lesser person possessing or seeking a security clearance, there is no reason to think that those same pressures wouldn’t affect someone with even greater responsibility.

Trumps Precedent

According to the New York Times, Trump settled a lawsuit that alleged, among other things, that he had obtained financing on the project in question from “questionable sources in Russia”. This is one project in which a complaint was filed. And while private citizens can generally run their private companies as they see fit, when an allegation like that is made against someone who is vying for our Presidency, it should demand a thorough investigation to find out not only if that allegation is true, but if it was repeated across other projects.

Likewise, Saudi Prince Alweed bin Talal has reasserted the claims he first made in January that Trump would have two more bankruptcies on his resume if not for the his intervention. What were the terms of Donalds bailout from the Prince? And has this been repaid?

These are questions that might be solvable by a review of Trumps tax returns. After all, he has said that he pays “as little as possible,” and since interest payments are tax-deductible, its a certainty that if such payments were made, they would be found within his returns. Or he never made those payments and we therefore find nothing. Either way, we would have greater clarity about the man running for President.

While it may appear that I’m picking on Trump, I believe this should be applied to all candidates going forward. The simple fact is his candidacy has exposed cracks in the disclosure laws were written in 1978.

Mitt Romeny’s Personal Financial Disclosure from his 2012 Presidential run, showed no liabilities such as mortgages, bank loans or other borrowings, only unexecuted capital calls for the Hedge Funds that he was invested in (which are typical for those investment vehicles). His tax returns confirmed this, showing that while he deducted $56,904 as interest expense in 2010, it was all the result of investment interest (again, typical of what you would expect to find in the tax returns of any hedge fund investor).

 

Whether its Donald Trump this year, or whoever his equivalent on the Left may be the future, presidential candidates should have an obligation to be overly transparent when disclosing to the public. If providing that trasparency is disagreeable, then they shouldn’t been running for the highest office. While most candidates in recent times have provided a great amount of clarity, this year it has become clear relying on an inadequate mandatory disclosure while hoping for voluntary disclosures to fill in the blanks, does provide the public with the necessary clarity they should expect from a presidential candidate.

Full Disclosure: Personally, I am opposed to Trumps candidacy and think he is woefully unsuited to sit in the Oval Office. However, I feel that anyone running for that office has a duty to fully inform the public of any and all conflicts of interest they may have, and that this should apply to any candidate from any party, whether they’re Republican, Democrat, Tea, Green, or anything else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *