Releasing federal tax returns has become a rite of passage for presidential candidates.
Donald Trump, who has marched to his own drummer in many ways this campaign season, has been the exception, refusing to release them.
During a recent appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton chided Trump for keeping his returns secret.
When Todd asked Clinton if Trump had done anything that should be praised, Clinton offered a non sequitur, saying Trump “needs to release his tax returns. The only two we have show that he hasn’t paid a penny in taxes.
“And yet he goes around talking about ‘make America great.’ You know, that means paying for our military. That means paying for our roads. That means paying for the V.A. That means a lot of things. And if you’ve got someone running for president who’s afraid to release his tax returns because it will expose the fact that he pays no federal income tax, I think that’s a big problem,” Clinton said.
We decided to see whether the only two tax returns made public show that Trump didn’t pay a penny.
Clinton has one thing correct here — public records do indicate that there were two years in the 1970s when Trump paid nothing in federal taxes. But she got a few key points wrong. Namely, the same public records show three other years in which Trump did pay federal income taxes. Also, the public records Clinton referred to are not Trump’s actual tax returns.
When we checked with the Clinton campaign, they referred us to a Washington Post story headlined, “Trump once revealed his income tax returns. They showed he didn’t pay a cent.” The source for the story is a document uncovered and posted online by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker Glenn Kessler. He used it to show that, contrary to Trump’s claim that “there’s nothing to learn” from his tax returns, the returns can reveal a great deal about a presidential candidate. Kessler gave Trump’s statement that there was “nothing to learn” four Pinocchios.
The key document relevant to Clinton’s statement is a 1981 report by New Jersey gambling regulators analyzing Trump’s finances as part of his efforts to get a casino license for a proposed casino-hotel complex. Page 33 reports on Trump’s income and federal tax payments for 1975 through 1979.
The report says that Trump did, in fact, pay federal taxes for three of those five years, a fact omitted in the Washington Post headline and story. It does not include the actual returns.
The report says Trump paid no federal income tax in 1978 and 1979 because, according to the tax rules, he lost money.
It shows Trump paid about $18,000 in taxes on income of about $76,000 in 1975, $10,000 on income of $24,000 in 1976 and $42,000 on income of $118,000 in 1977. You would have to multiply those numbers by about about 4.5 to translate them into 2016 dollars.
New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, which verified his income, losses and deductions, said Trump’s losses came from the operation of his various properties.
But the report reveals no specifics, so the details of his tax returns for those years remain a mystery.
Trump has made it clear in interviews and debates that he works aggressively to pay as little in taxes as possible.
We also contacted Trump’s campaign. We didn’t hear back.
Clinton said, “The only two (Donald Trump tax returns) we have show that he hasn’t paid a penny in taxes.”
We don’t know a lot about Trump’s tax situation, a fact exacerbated by his unwillingness to release his full tax returns.
Public records show that Trump did not pay federal income taxes in two years — 1978 and 1979 — which is what Clinton was referencing. But the same records include information from three other years — 1975, 1976, and 1977 — when Trump did pay federal income taxes.
The records we have are not full tax returns, which makes learning more about those years (or any others) difficult.
Clinton’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
We rate Clinton’s statement Mostly False.
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For the full fact-check, please see www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/may/24/hillary-clinton/hillary-clinton-claim-about-donald-trump-paying-no/