DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) - For months you've witnessed an expensive war of words in Ohio's Senate Race. It's clear Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Josh Mandel don't agree on much, but on this they did agree. They would let taxpayers and voters see their personal income tax returns, under certain conditions.
I interviewed Mandel on August 31st about releasing his tax records. He responded, "That is something I would want to discuss with my wife. We filed an extensive financial disclosure form people can go on the internet and read."
As for Senator Brown, I spoke with him by satellite on September 13th. I asked him if he would release his personal income tax returns and he said he would if Mandel would.
That didn't happen. It turns out, Brown and Mandel aren't unique.
When U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked he said this, "I've never released my tax returns. That's my private business, just like it's your own private business. It's a sideshow. the American people are asking the question where are the jobs. They're not asking where are the tax returns."
I made the same request by email September 24th, then followed up with a phone call. I never got a response from Boehner or his staff.
Ohio's 3rd District Representative, Mike Turner, is Dayton's homegrown congressman. His staff was the most responsive, but days before airing this report I called his communications director and found out we'd not be getting a copy of Turner's tax returns.
Instead, Turner released his "financial disclosure" statement for calendar year 2009 filed in May 2010. It's required by law and it lists stocks purchased and sold, but the amounts of transaction are not specific.
What you see are ranges $1,001 to 15,000 in many cases. Some assets belong to a spouse or dependent child. Others are jointly held. There is a place to list spouse's income, but in the case of Congressman Turner, the amount was marked not available.
Travel payments and reimbursements are also to be disclosed if more than $335 is spent. Members of Congress are also to list mortgages and lines of credit, however again, only a range is required.
Such statements are now available to you online from representatives and senators . Every year members of Congress and those who run against them must file financial disclosure forms as a matter of ethics, something Congress itself established.
They're intended to give you a chance to monitor possible conflicts of interest. However, government watchdog groups like "Public Citizen" and the "Center for Responsive Politics" find them too vague and incomplete. Thus, the call to release tax returns.
Unlike form 1040, we can't tell from a financial disclosure statement what members of Congress paid in taxes, if they even paid at all. Filings don't reveal a tax rate. You can't figure out their tax brackets with only ranges of income. You also don't see what tax credits and deductions members claim, and the IRS won't tell you.
Former governor of Ohio, Bob Taft, weighed in on this issue.
"If a member of Congress or a candidate hasn't paid their taxes obviously that would be significant. Hopefully most of them have done so but I think it's a tough call," Taft said. Taft remembers releasing income tax data when he was pressured by a challenger to do so, but he worries that type of pressure might keep qualified men and women from seeking public office.
"I think the financial disclosure form is adequate," Taft told 2 NEWS.
Governor Taft now teaches a class at the University of Dayton called Legislative Politics. I took the disclosure debate to his students.
In this class of 22 registered voters not all had filed 1040s themselves. Ten students indicated they thought Congress should release personal tax information.
"Tax policy seems to be changing every couple of years now and it's such a hot topic with voters. It would be reassuring to voters to see what tax rate the candidates are paying."
"People want to know so there's more transparency for the members of Congress and so that they can relate to them better."
"At least this has like a lawful element to it like we know they're not committing tax fraud."
"I really think it kind of detracts from the actual issues."
"I personally don't feel like it's the general public's business. "
That's about the same response we got from the press secretary for 4th District Congressman Jim Jordan. She told me the financial disclosure forms "have everything I need." Jordan did put down an amount for his wife's salary.
Finally, here's what I discovered about Senator Rob Portman from his financial disclosure form. Inside those 25 pages you see that he has numerous assets and commercial rental properties in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky, some gaining him between $100,000 and a million in rent. Quite a range, no exact number. Senator Portman elected not to share his personal income tax returns.
"I encourage people to go online. It's all available. There's lots of information there, probably will be
pretty boring. I think it's appropriate for me and other elected officials."
Congress is having to produce more information in a more timely manner than ever before with the Stock Act of 2012 now in effect. Instead of having an annual obligation now representatives and senators must file disclosure of trading activity within 30 days so it can be traced to any current legislation being debated.
The following links should help you find the most current financial disclosure statements by your representatives.
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