The Obamas released tax returns for both Barack and Michelle. The Clintons released returns for both Bill and Hillary. But when John McCain released h
May 7, 2008

The Obamas released tax returns for both Barack and Michelle. The Clintons released returns for both Bill and Hillary. But when John McCain released his tax returns a few weeks ago, Cindy McCain’s tax documents will remain private.

It’s not too hard to understand why. The McCains are extraordinarily wealthy — one might even be tempted to call them “elites” — and Cindy McCain’s assets are estimated to be about $100 million, including a private jet, which her husband has been borrowing at a reduced rate.

Given the other candidates’ disclosures, and McCain’s own alleged commitment to transparency, will we ever see Cindy McCain’s returns? She was asked on the “Today” show this morning, and said, politely, “Never.”

I’ll tell you a little secret: at first blush, I’m not inclined to care. The McCains have more money than some countries, they haven’t been accused of any financial improprieties, and while it’s interesting when a guy like McCain opposes minimum-wage increases while flying around on his wife’s private jet, I’m not exactly itching to go through Cindy McCain’s tax returns. In fact, I’m not surprised that someone of her wealth would want to keep her returns free of scrutiny.

But this is absolutely relevant in this presidential campaign for a few reasons.

First, John McCain, for all of his talk about the importance of transparency and disclosure, has gone out of his way to ensure that all of his assets are in his wife’s name. And as Kevin recently noted, “There’s only one reason for a politician to make sure that all his assets are in his wife’s name: it’s to make sure that no one knows anything about his assets. It’s not as if McCain is the first pol to try this, after all. Is the press really going to let him get away with this?”

Which leads us to the second reason this matters: McCain has always relied on his wife’s wealth, and has always “mixed business and politics.” If the point of releasing tax returns is to offer voters a chance to get a better sense of the candidate, then it’s incumbent on the McCains to stop acting like they have something to hide.

And third, there’s just the shameless hypocrisy of it all. In 2004, the Republican National Committee spent quite a bit of time and energy demanding that the Kerry campaign release Teresa Heinz Kerry’s tax returns. The candidate’s wife resisted, but after pressure from the GOP and the media, she eventually gave in and made the materials publicly available.

The situation is exactly the same. John Kerry made less money than his wife, who inherited most of her fortune. McCain is practically broke, and relies on his wife’s millions, which were also inherited.

In other words, if we hold the McCains to the standards set by the Republican Party, they owe the public some additional information. The press hounded the Kerrys on this; we’ll see if the media chooses to give the McCains equal treatment. I’m not optimistic.

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