Why the demand for political candidates' tax returns? What do they really show?

Posted at 9:56 PM, Oct 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-04 23:38:03-04

The battle over political candidates releasing their personal income tax returns has made its way to Missouri.

Attorney General Chris Koster has released four years of returns. Now, his campaign wants his opponent Eric Greitens to do the same.

"He's obviously afraid of something that's in there. He's trying to hide something from the people of Missouri. There is something in those tax returns that he doesn't want the people of Missouri to see," said campaign manager Andrew Whalen. 

Greitens's campaign manager Austin Chambers responded, "We aren't hiding anything. We filled out all these personal financial disclosures. In fact, you have to fill them out to be on the ballot here in Missouri."

With all of the controversy surrounding the issue, we paid a visit to Scott McRuer. He's the managing member of McRuer CPAs and has more than 30 years of experience with taxes.

McRuer explained, "Looking at a tax return won't tell you a whole lot about a person. Particularly a person with a more complicated tax situation. It doesn't necessarily tell a non-informed reader what does it really mean?"

"A simple tax return might tell you what that person earns from their work. It may tell you what they earn from some of the investments that they have and some of the investments it doesn't really work that way," he shared. "The tax law doesn't necessarily measure economic events. The tax law measures the tax law."

In short, McRuer doesn't think a tax return paints a complete picture of any person's financial situation because that is not what the tax code is for. Plus, taxes can be difficult to interpret.

"When they say the tax laws may be unnecessarily complicated and hard to understand and there's probably not a single human being who really understands all of it that's probably no joke," McRuer said.

It is common practice for presidential candidates to release their tax returns. In 2012, neither candidate for Missouri governor released their tax returns.



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