President Trump's Tax Returns, Explained

BY MOLLY WETSCH   OCT. 4, 2020
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What should I know?

  • The New York Times published an article on Sept. 27 detailing President Donald Trump’s tax returns dating back more than two decades.1
  • The article covered his lack of income tax payment, history of conflict with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and major losses within his company.2
  • Trump has claimed the article from the Times is false and that he has paid “many millions of dollars in taxes”.3
  • The article highlighted Trump’s income tax payments during his first two years in office, which totaled just $1500, and the fact that Trump paid no income tax at all for 10 years.4

What’s the context behind this?

  • Trump has been avoiding the subject of his tax returns since the 2016 election.
    • The report published by the Times outs not only his IRS issues, but problems within his own company.
    • In comparison, other major politicians like Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes last year.
  • Trump is the first modern president not to release his tax returns.
    • This has given Biden and his Democratic colleagues plenty of opportunity, especially in recent months, to criticize his presidency.
    • The GOP has taken the opposite approach, claiming that Democrats are using Trump’s tax returns to distract from their own party’s corruption.7

What are the larger implications?

  • This controversy could cause major complications for Trump during the final month of his election campaign.
    • This month is especially critical for Trump as an incumbent, and the timing of the New York Times article coincided with the Presidential debate on Tuesday, Sept. 22, where the President’s tax returns were a hot topic with Biden.
  • Trump’s polling numbers have dropped since the New York Times article was released.
    • Currently, Biden is polling at 50.5%, with Trump at 43.1%.9
    • The Republican party has largely stayed silent concerning the issue, with exceptions regarding House Republicans demanding an investigation into the New York Times article.

In a Quote:

“I find it outrageous… There are several goals in any tax system. One is vertical equity. One is horizontal equity. Richer people should be paying more than poor people and similarly situated people should be paying about the same. And you can't call $750 paid by our current president as equitable in any sense compared to his peers.”

—James D. Clark, former Chief Tax Counsel on the House Ways and Means Committee, via BBC.


References:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/27/us/donald-trump-taxes.html
  2. Ibid.
  3. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1310587468731879431
  4. Ibid.
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/05/12/trumps-false-claim-that-theres-nothing-to-learn-from-his-tax-returns/
  6. https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/29/politics/joe-biden-tax-returns/index.html
  7. https://thehill.com/homenews/house/518683-top-house-republican-calls-for-probe-of-source-of-nyt-trump-tax-documents
  8. https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/466133-biden-calls-out-trump-after-ohio-debate-mr-president-release-your-tax
  9. https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/president-general/national/
  10. Ibid.
  11. https://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2020-54330439