Taxes, taxes — who’s got the taxes?

“I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.” 

— Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., U.S. Supreme Court, 1927


On Sept. 26, 2016, during the first of three presidential debates, candidate Hillary Clinton said candidate Donald Trump wouldn’t release his tax returns because “he didn't pay any federal income tax.”

Trump’s response? “That makes me smart.” He didn’t deny her charge; he said not paying taxes made him smart. He continued to refuse to release his returns, despite promises to do so. “If I decide to run for office, I will release my tax returns. Absolutely. I would love to do that.”

Now, six years later, it took a literal act of Congress to get Trump’s taxes. Every president since Richard Nixon has voluntarily released his taxes to the public every year. Trump refused to do this. This led millions to wonder, “What is he hiding?”

We now know some of the story. Trump claimed for years that he couldn’t release his taxes because they were under audit. That claim is false; anyone may release their taxes anytime, whether under audit or not. Since 1977, every president until Trump has been under automatic audit every year, yet they release their taxes publicly.

Trump not only could have released his taxes at any time, but it turns out he wasn’t getting audited at all, not even the mandatory presidential audit.

“Don’t presidents get audited? They are supposed to. The IRS has an internal policy that mandates audits of presidents and vice presidents. Representatives for President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama confirmed that each was audited for every year in office. But in their report, committee Democrats said the audit process, which dates to 1977, was ‘dormant, at best’ during the early years of the Trump administration… Trump is the first president in recent history to refuse to share tax information with the public.” (Reno Gazette Journal, Dec. 25, 2022)

Congress needs to investigate how Trump avoided the mandatory audits. And Congress needs to make this mandatory audit a law, not just an IRS mandate. The American people need to know where our president’s income comes from. We need to know if the most powerful person in our country is making decisions based on what is best for the country or what is best for his pocketbook.

Plus, we need to know if the person running our government is telling the truth. One of Trump’s major claims as a candidate was that he was qualified to run the country because he was a successful businessman. In fact, his tax returns show that most, if not all, of his businesses lost money; several went bankrupt. His income comes mostly from his investments, not his businesses. Not a sign of success.

One example of his failures was the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. “The hotel also lost $73 million from 2016, when it opened, to 2020.” Trump sold this failed business in 2021. (Business Insider, Nov. 14, 2021)

Let’s compare what Trump paid in taxes in select years to what former President Barack Obama and current President Joe Biden paid. Anyone can access their tax returns online, showing income, charitable donations, and taxes paid. They have nothing to hide.

Trump: In 2016, he paid $750; in 2017, $750. In 2020, he paid $0 and donated nothing to charity. The most he paid was $999,466 in 2018, based on an AGI of $24,395,093. That’s an effective tax rate of 4 percent, much lower than most taxpayers pay.

Biden: In 2014, he paid $91,356 in taxes, at a 23 percent tax rate. In 2017, he paid $3.7 million; in 2018, $1.5 million, and in 2019, $300,000.

Obama: In 2009, he paid $1.8 million in federal tax. In 2010, his income from book royalties dropped and he paid $453,770, a tax rate of 26 percent. He donated $245,075 to charity. In 2011, he paid $162,000 in taxes while donating $172,130 to charity. Subsequent years are very similar; each year, the Obamas donate 15-25 percent of their income to charity.

Trump argues that tax returns don’t reveal much. In reality, they show a lot. Trump has been manipulating the tax laws for years, short-changing the country he claims to love. His skimpy charitable donations show how much he cares about others. (Not much).

As for Obama, Biden, and others such as myself, I agree with Justice Holmes. I appreciate what this country has done for me, and I am proud to support it. Why isn’t Trump?

Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at


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