Show Us Your Taxes: Law Professor Calls for Universal Disclosure for Legislators

Sep. 24, 2012

Dorothy BrownIn a recent op-ed published on Bloomberg View, Dorothy Brown, a professor of tax law at Emory Law School, delved into the back and forth between Democrats and Republicans over Mitt Romney’s tax records.

“Democrats,” she wrote, “including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, continue to make much of the refusal of Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, to release more than two years’ worth of tax returns. It is all a red herring. The key to bringing fairness to our tax laws would be for all 535 members of Congress—including Reid—to release their returns.”

Short of that unlikely event, Brown noted that congressional tax records can inform the populace of how many legislators benefit from the tax breaks they enact. For example, “if you own stock outside of your retirement account, then you are eligible for the preferential rate of 15 percent. But if your income is mostly from wages or from the amounts drawn from your retirement account, then your tax rate can be as high as 35 percent. While fewer than one in five Americans have incomes eligible for the 15 percent rate, almost nine in ten senators do.”

But she added that such information isn’t easy to discover and found it only after combing through every senator’s financial aid disclosure form on OpenSecrets.org.

“You shouldn’t have to trust my survey,” Brown continued. “The tax returns should be made public so we can all see how often the legislators actually benefit from the 15 percent rate.”

She concluded: “The American public must demand not only Romney’s tax records, but the returns of each senator and representative. When members of Congress understand that in order to keep their jobs they must put the financial interests of their constituents above their own, we will get the type of tax system that we deserve.”

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