Tax returns (and lack of) an issue in Metro East congressional race

2012-02-23T13:24:00Z 2012-03-10T20:14:10Z Tax returns (and lack of) an issue in Metro East congressional raceBY KEVIN McDERMOTT > kmcdermott@post-dispatch.com > 217-782-4912 stltoday.com

SPRINGFIELD,Ill. • Jason Plummer is standing by his policy against releasing his personal tax returns. And as of this week, he’s standing alone.

In what is becoming a litmus test for candidates everywhere, three of the five remaining hopefuls running for Illinois' 12th Congressional district have now released their personal tax returns, and a fourth has promised to do so after the primaries.

That leaves Plummer, the 29-year-old O’Fallon lumber heir who was the 2010 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, as the only one of the five candidates who hasn’t released his returns and has given no indication he will.

The candidates are vying for the seat held by retiring Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville.

The tax-return issue ignited this week when Republican candidate Rodger Cook of St. Libory released his tax returns and challenged his opponents to do so. Democrat Brad Harriman’s campaign initially said he would release his records in March, but he ended up releasing them Wednesday.

Democratic hopeful Kenneth Wiezer of Granite City told the Post-Dispatch today that will release his returns if he wins his party’s nomination in the March 20 primaries. Republican Theresa Kormos of O’Fallon has previously allowed reporters to view her tax returns.

Plummer, defending his decision not to follow suit, argued in a written statement this week that his campaign is already “the most transparent campaign in the race” because it has released a personal financial disclosure form that lists assets and holdings, and that he has disclosed the names of his campaign donors.

“I was the first to provide this information to the voters and I will always be the most transparent candidate,” Plummer said in the statement.

The thing is, disclosure of financial ties and campaign donors are both required by law from congressional candidates. Personal tax returns aren’t.

Many candidates release them anyway, as a show of transparency, or (just as often) to tweak a wealthy opponent. Those who hesitate are often forced to capitulate if it becomes a campaign issue. That was the case in 2010 with Plummer’s runningmate, Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady, and with the GOP’s current presidential front-runner Mitt Romney.

In the cases of both candidates, their belated release of tax records highlighted their wealth in politically embarrassing ways. Brady’s records showed he owed no federal income taxes for two years (because of business losses). Romney’s records showed he paid an effective tax rate of about 15 percent, well below that of most average taxpayers, because most of his income came from low-taxed dividends.

 

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