For the past few years, Democrats have been obsessed with tax returns. Way back in 2012, you may recall, Democrats tried to make an issue about Mitt Romney’s tax returns — though he eventually relased them.

Before that happened, Harry Reid, then the Senate Majority Leader, even lied on the floor of the U.S. Senate, claiming that Romney didn’t pay taxes at all in 2010 or 2011. He never apologized for it; indeed, he’s boasted about it since, though it was an action for which his colleagues should have officially censured him.

These days, Democrats are still complaining about Trump never releasing his tax returns during last year’s presidential election. When their allies in the media have managed to grab snippets of information about Trump’s taxes, they’ve treated it monumentally — even though in the end they’ve been big flops, revealing little. Here in Maine, Democrats haven’t made much of a fuss about it, but it’s not for lack of opportunity.

This past legislative session, Democrats had a chance to pass a bill — sponsored Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham — that would have forced future presidential and vice-presidential candidates to post their tax returns in order to qualify for the ballot in Maine. You might think that such a bill would die on a party-line vote in the Senate, where Republicans have the majority, and you’d be right. However, it didn’t pass the House, either — many Democrats joined with their Republican colleagues to kill it there.

It’s curious to see so many establishment Democrats, with so much energy pouring into their party from the anti-Trump movement, pass up a chance to hold the man accountable and stay on message. Punting on this issue could well alienate much of their base, and lead progressive activists of all stripes to wonder what, if anything, they really stand for in the end. After all, if Maine Democrats aren’t willing to stand up to Trump on this issue, can you trust them to stand up on any issue?

Then again, if you take a look at the current Democratic gubernatorial field, it begins to make more sense.

It would certainly be fascinating to flip through the tax returns of candidates running for governor next year. Some of them may be straightforward, but others could be quite interesting. They’ve got one longtime lobbyist, Betsy Sweet, running — seeing her returns could give us a hint into just how much money she’s made as a paid advocate for various causes. It might seem like Janet Mills’s tax returns would be relatively simple, and for recent years when she’s been serving as attorney general that may well be the case. Before that, she was in private practice for a long time, and knowing more about the state of her finances could be revealing. In general, it would be interesting to know how much all of the Democratic candidates are making at their various jobs, and how far their income is from the Maine median.

Of course, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: Candidates from both parties would serve the people of Maine by releasing at least one years’ worth of tax returns, to give a window into the state of their finances. Right now, we know preciously little. Sitting legislators have to declare their sources of income in an annual form, so we know that Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, for example, works at at an excavation company and in real estate — but not how much he makes. So, if a gubernatorial candidate says they’re a successful businessman, that may be difficult to independently verify.

Tax returns don’t show everything; they’re only a glimpse of a person’s finances. If a candidate owns a business, their individual return wouldn’t necessarily show the value of that business — only what they themselves make. Or, if a candidate had wealthy family members and could access their assets, that might not show up in an individual return either. Tax returns can provide quite a bit of information though, like how much they give to charity and what loopholes they might be using.

It hasn’t been a tradition in the past for gubernatorial candidates to release their tax returns, but it’s time to begin the practice. Many of the candidates’ websites are filled with nothing but vague promises and talking points. Throwing tax returns up there would give the voters real data about them, rather than just rhetoric. Isn’t that something we the people deserve from our next governor?

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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