Forcing Trump to produce five years of tax returns doesn't help voters but real tax reform might

Upon reading The Baltimore Sun editorial about a proposal by two Prince George's County lawmakers to require presidential candidates to release five years of tax returns if they want to be on Maryland's ballot ("Want to run for president? Show us your taxes," Jan. 4), I became confused. Was it the editorial board's intention not to include any valid points?

The Sun may have missed it but the Federal Election Commission released Donald Trump's 104-page financial disclosure to the public in May of last year. It details Mr. Trump's income, income sources, liabilities and investments — all the information the editorial claimed would be needed to identify conflicts of interest. The hysteria over the release of Mr. Trump's tax returns reminds me of the hysteria over the release of President Barack Obama's long form birth certificate. Remember that? Remember how ridiculous that seemed? President Obama had already provided evidence to determine his U.S. citizenship making him an eligible presidential candidate. For some critics, it was not enough. President-elect Trump has released 104 pages of financial disclosures to reveal any potential conflicts of interest. For some critics, it will never be enough.

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I hope The Sun covered the Internal Revenue Service controversy in 2013. If so, readers should know that the Obama administration effectively weaponized the IRS for use against groups with opposing political ideologies. Would the Obama administration not target a political adversary like Mr. Trump if the IRS had any evidence he was actually committing a federal crime like tax evasion or fraud? There are no ongoing federal criminal investigations. We didn't see Melania Trump meeting on the tarmac with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in Phoenix. If the IRS audits could potentially reveal anything fiscally untoward regarding Mr. Trump, the administration would have played that card already. I think it's safe to say his refusal to release tax returns is not an attempt to cover up illegal or unethical activity.

The Sun's editorial highlights the Prince George's County lawmakers' flagrant partisanship and legislative ineptitude. Instead of creating laws to stop a future sitting Republican president from appearing on 2020's presidential ballot in Maryland (a state that has consistently voted for the Democratic candidate by over 25 points in the last three presidential elections), why not do something truly effective?

Why don't the lawmakers and their Democratic colleagues in Congress work on passing legislation to close the tax loopholes they accuse Mr. Trump of taking advantage of? Wouldn't that be more effective in punishing him, in addition to all the wealthy elite who may not be "paying their fair share?" I thought that was one of the big ticket items that Democrats typically campaign on. Or has that already been forgotten?

The "absurdity" the Sun editorial mentions isn't in Mr. Trump keeping his tax return private while critiquing the House of Representatives' attempted actions. The absurdity is in grief-stricken Democrats' refusal to see Mr. Trump's criticism of House Republicans as positive and bipartisan. Mr. Trump already met the ethical (and legal) standard of disclosing his financials to the FEC; will Democrats ever accept that? When these Prince George's County lawmakers write their requirement to release future presidential candidates' tax returns, I hope they at least specify that they will only accept candidates' long form tax returns.

All that aside, the editorial misses the real important point in all this controversy — our current tax code. According to the Tax Policy Center, over 45 percent of Americans paid no federal income taxes in 2015. Not to say those 45 percent of Americans are deadbeats, they're not. Some of the roughly 77.5 million had no taxable income. The rest were taking advantage of the loopholes in the tax code that prevented them from paying while the other half of America foots the bill. Does that sound like "economic patriotism?" To me, it sounds like an inflated, overly-complicated tax code that should be simplified.

Remember those presidential candidates in the 2016 primary who were campaigning on simplifying the tax code or on initiating a "flat tax"? They were Republicans. Our Robin Hood-esque progressive tax code which burdens wealthy Americans more than it burdens the middle- or low-income Americans is not noble or ethical. Essentially, it's wealth redistribution, otherwise known as theft. A flat tax rate ensures that all Americans pay a fair, equal percentage of their income to the government.

The passage of flat tax legislation would strip Mr. Trump of the 74,608 pages of tax loopholes available to him in our tax code. That's a better way to kick Mr. Trump in the shins than passing the TRUMP Act. Democrats take note!

Charlene Cowan, Baltimore

The writer represents Councilmanic District 1 on the Baltimore City Republican Central Committee.

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