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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

What if candidates were forced to release their tax returns?

05/26/16 08:40AM

Since Watergate, every major-party presidential nominee has voluntarily released at least some of his or her tax returns to the public. Some have been more transparent than others -- Hillary Clinton has set the bar pretty high by posting nearly four decades' worth of returns online -- but every Democrat and every Republican have acceded to some level of disclosure.
 
This year, Donald Trump is putting these norms to the test. Though the Republican had previously vowed to release the materials, the presumptive GOP nominee has since made up excuses to keep his returns hidden, and has even suggested he's prepared to ignore the longstanding tradition, even if that gives the impression that he has something to hide.
 
Maybe voters will be alarmed by his secrecy, maybe they won't, but what if Trump didn't have a choice in the matter? The Washington Post reported late yesterday on an interesting new proposal pending on Capitol Hill.
The Senate's sharpest-tongued privacy advocate has proposed a law to force presidential candidates to release their tax returns within days of securing their party's nomination.
 
Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden's bill would require presidential candidates to release at least three years worth of their tax returns within 15 days of being officially nominated at their party convention, applying a legal requirement to something Wyden argues has been standard practice for over 40 years.
"If you are a major party's nominee to be the leader of the free world, Americans have said ever since Watergate that you don't get to hide your tax returns," Wyden said. "It ought to be the law."
 
The Oregon senator added, "I don't believe the public should have to believe the boasting or take somebody's word for it. Nominees have traditionally released a lot more -- [three years] ought to be used as a starting point."
 
The bill is called the "Presidential Tax Transparency Act" (S. 2979), and it's already picked up two co-sponsors: Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
 
To be sure, some of this academic given the circumstances. The bill is unlikely to pick up Republican support this year, and it would probably even face some resistance from liberals like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who's been reluctant to meet the disclosure requirements Wyden's bill would mandate.
 
But putting aside legislative projections, does the idea have merit?
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez isn't being seriously vetted as a potential Mitt Romney running mate.

Why a prominent GOP governor is feuding with Donald Trump

05/26/16 08:00AM

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has heard the criticisms Donald Trump has thrown at her, but her office insisted yesterday the Republican governor "will not be bullied" by her party's presumptive presidential nominee.
"Governor Martinez doesn't care about what Donald Trump says about her," Martinez press secretary Mike Lonergan said in a statement to media outlets. "She cares about what he says he will do to help New Mexicans.
 
"She's disappointed that she didn't hear anything about that last night," he added.
The comments were the latest volley in an unexpected feud between Martinez and Trump, which has escalated to levels some in the party find uncomfortable. As Rachel explained on the show last night, Trump appeared in New Mexico on Tuesday night, though the governor steered clear of the event, saying she was too "busy" to appear with the GOP presidential hopeful.
 
Soon after, speaking to a receptive audience, Trump suggested Martinez, the nation's first and only Latina governor, was lazy and ineffectual. "We have got to get your governor to get going," he said. "She's got to do a better job, okay? Your governor has got to do a better job. She's not doing the job.... She's not doing the job. We've got to get her moving. Come on, let's go, governor."
 
Keep in mind, Martinez is a conservative Republican and the current chair of the Republican Governors Association. For months, pundits have talked about the New Mexico governor as a leading contender for the party's vice presidential nomination and a rising GOP star.
 
Which makes Trump's criticisms -- read from pre-written notes, not made off the cuff -- all the more striking. It's one thing for Trump to take some verbal shots at leading Republicans during the primaries after they've endorsed a rival candidate, but in GOP politics, the primaries are over. Trump's the last man standing, and this is the point in the process in which he's (a) supposed to be uniting the party, (b) stepping up outreach to Hispanic voters; and (c) toning down his attacks on women.
 
And yet, this week in New Mexico, Trump did the exact opposite. The question is, why?

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.25.16

05/25/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Afghanistan: "Four days after their leader was killed in an American drone strike, the Taliban broke their silence early Wednesday to announce that a lesser-known deputy, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, would take over and continue the group's war against the Afghan government."
 
* Related reporting: "The U.S. drone strike that killed the Taliban's leader has also set up a potential leadership struggle between two of the terror group's up-and-comers -- and may signal more attacks on Western targets."
 
* So much interest in bathrooms: "Eleven states have sued the Obama administration over its sweeping directive requiring all public school districts to grant transgender students access to the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities."
 
* It sure does seem like we knew all of this already: "Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton violated federal records rules through her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, a State Department audit has concluded."
 
* Japan: "The brutal murder of an Okinawa woman, allegedly by a U.S. military contractor, dominated a meeting between the American and Japanese leaders Wednesday night, with President Obama expressing his 'deepest regrets' to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the 'tragedy.'"
 
* South Carolina: "S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law Wednesday a ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later. The ban offers no exceptions for rape or incest – omissions that opponents say will harm some of the state's most vulnerable women."
 
* My preferred solution is to not go anywhere: "The head of the Transportation Security Administration, facing fierce criticism over long lines at airport security checkpoints, said Wednesday that passengers would most likely continue to experience longer than normal wait times because of an expected increase in summer travel."
Mary Lou Bruner, 69, candidate for State Board of Education, District 9. (Photo by Rachel Rutledge/The Northeast Texan)

Unhinged Texas activist comes up short in key statewide election

05/25/16 04:41PM

Even among those who've come to expect some pretty nutty positions from Texas Republicans, Mary Lou Bruner stood out as unique. Plenty of right-wing activists believe some ridiculous conspiracy theories, but Bruner publicly embraced ideas so hopelessly bizarre, she made national headlines when she became the frontrunner for a seat on the Texas State Board of Education -- a department that helps decide, among other things, what goes into textbooks in the nation's second-largest school system.
 
Bruner ran on a platform of -- I kid you not -- keeping gay "subliminal messages" out of textbooks. Somehow, this did not persuade Texas voters, who yesterday decided to go in a different direction.
[A]s conspiracy theories in Bruner's old Facebook posts surfaced, her lead shrunk. Voters ultimately chose fellow Republican Keven Ellis, a local school board president, for the GOP nomination. Bruner lost by about 18 percent in the primary runoff. [...]
 
"Texas escaped an education train wreck tonight," Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said in a statement. "If Bruner had ultimately won election to the board, she would have instantly become the most embarrassingly uninformed and divisive member on a board that already too often puts politics ahead of making sure our kids get a sound education."
The results are reassuring, though before the national spotlight turns away from the story altogether, it's worth pausing to appreciate some of the ideas Mary Lou Bruner publicly espoused:
Ryan Bundy, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, walks through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Jan. 8, 2016, near Burns, Ore. (Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP)

Jail imposes limits on Bundy Brothers' freedoms

05/25/16 04:06PM

As 2016 got underway, Americans were treated to a story that still seems hard to believe. A group of well-armed militants drove to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, took control of its headquarters, and posted guards in camouflage outside. The military members, led in part by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, controversial rancher Cliven Bundy's sons, said they were willing to kill and be killed if necessary in their effort to have federal land turned over to local authorities.
 
Not surprisingly, federal officials weren't willing to meet the militants' demands, and nearly six weeks after the controversy erupted, the militia members exited the wildlife refuge, and Ammon and Ryan Bundy, among others, were taken into custody.
 
The organizers of this standoff are still awaiting trial, but Oregon Public Radio reports that the Bundy brothers are not satisfied with the conditions of their detention.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy are actively considering whether they should pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office for conditions at the county detention center.
 
In court documents released Tuesday, the leaders of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation give a list of conditions at the jail they said are violating their constitutional rights.
 
Among the complaints, the Bundys and several other occupiers -- including Kenneth Medenbach, Pete Santilli, Jason Patrick, Blaine Cooper and Ryan Payne -- said they should have more access to the jail's law library, discovery materials, office supplies and religious underwear.
It's hard to evaluate the complaints on the merits, though I was struck by something from a written statement from Ryan Bundy.
 
"My rights are being violated," he said. "My right to life is being violated. All of my First Amendment rights are being violated. My right to freedom of religion is being violated. My Second Amendment rights are being violated. I never waived that right."
 
Just so we're clear, Ryan Bundy is currently incarcerated. And while it's true that prisoners don't forfeit all of the civil liberties while they're wards of the state, jails tend to frown on prisoners having access to firearms.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., May 16, 2016. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Trump's unique ability to help Clinton unite Democrats

05/25/16 12:49PM

One of the most common questions in Democratic politics is obvious, though it's not easy to answer: Once the primaries are over, how will Hillary Clinton unify progressive voters ahead of the general election? Much of the discussion involves speculation about Bernie Sanders' strategy, the party's convention, the party's platform, Clinton's eventual running mate, etc.
 
But there's a piece to this puzzle that sometimes goes overlooked: Clinton will try to bring Democrats and progressive independents together, but it's Donald Trump who'll seal the deal.
 
Last October, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi covered the House Republicans' Benghazi Committee and its 11-hour grilling of Clinton, and he wrote a very memorable piece soon after. Taibbi, a Clinton detractor, conceded at the time that he started to feel more sympathetic towards the Democrat, not out of pity, but in response to the GOP's outrageous antics.
Those idiots represent everything that is wrong not just with the Republican Party, but with modern politics in general. It's hard to imagine a political compromise that wouldn't be justified if its true aim would be to keep people like those jackasses out of power.
In context, none of this had anything to do with Bernie Sanders or the Democratic primary, but Taibbi's point -- there's value in compromise if it means keeping "those jackasses out of power" -- lingered in my mind because I suspect many of Sanders' die-hard supporters will be making a similar calculation in the coming months.
 
And Donald Trump, whether he realizes it or not, is going to help.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.25.16

05/25/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Protests against Donald Trump at an event in New Mexico last night turned violent, and there was at least one arrest.
 
* On a related note, we can apparently remove New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R), the chairwoman of the Republican Governor's Association, from VP consideration. Martinez steered clear of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee during his trip to New Mexico, and Trump blasted the governor during his speech in Albuquerque.
 
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Bernie Sanders' campaign has launched a $1.5 million ad buy in California, two weeks ahead of the state's Democratic primary.
 
* Speaking of the Vermont senator, Sanders has also formally requested Kentucky re-canvass last week's primary results, which showed Hillary Clinton narrowly winning the primary. If the initial tally was incorrect and the taxpayer-funded re-canvassing succeeds, Sanders may net an additional delegate or two.
 
* Clinton won yesterday's non-binding primary in the state of Washington yesterday. Though voter turnout was quadruple that of Washington's caucuses in March, when Sanders prevailed, the primary will not affect the delegate count.
 
* In the latest Farleigh Dickinson poll in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) approval rating is down to a woeful 26%.
 
* Sen. Richard Burr (R), facing a tougher-than-expected re-election fight in North Carolina, conceded yesterday that even he isn't pleased with the state's new anti-LGBT law. Burr said the state's Republican legislators "botched what they were trying to do," and passed a law that "was far too expansive."
Bob Corker

Republican VP contender's finances draw FBI scrutiny

05/25/16 11:20AM

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has been the subject of a lot of vice-presidential speculation, and on paper, it's easy to understand why. In fact, by some measures, the Tennessee Republican is the mirror opposite of Donald Trump: Corker is an experienced insider; he's well liked within the party; and he's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. When it comes to VP speculation, that's a lot of checked boxes.
 
Plus, unlike many other prominent GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Corker doesn't seem to hate the presumptive Republican nominee. Indeed, this week, the senator "declined an invitation to join President Barack Obama's historic trip to Asia," but Corker "did find time for a New York meeting with Donald Trump on Monday," where the two reportedly chatted about foreign policy.
 
All things considered, the Tennessean certainly looks like the kind of guy who'd make Trump's short list for the Republican ticket. There is, however, a problem, which Politico highlighted overnight:
The FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission are scrutinizing Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker's personal finances, including stock transactions involving one of the nation's top developers of shopping centers and malls, according to multiple sources familiar with the probe.
 
Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a potential vice presidential pick, failed to report millions of dollars in assets and income on his annual financial disclosure until The Wall Street Journal revealed the discrepancy last fall. In the wake of that report, Corker was forced to revise years' worth of disclosure reports.
It's worth emphasizing that the exact nature of the FBI's and SEC's scrutiny is unclear -- there have been no reports of a possible indictment -- and Corker insists he's done nothing wrong. Whether these probes will amount to anything is, at least for now, entirely speculative.
 
That said, when a senator's finances draw interest from the FBI and the SEC, that's generally the sort of thing that might keep a guy off his party's national ticket.
 
Then again, this is Donald Trump we're talking about, so maybe if Corker were in actual legal trouble, he'd be even more appealing to the presumptive Republican nominee.

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