Friday, March 31, 2006

Johnston Inserts Himself in Tax Return Debate

John Keller notes today in his blog and on his segment at CBS4 that the real news is not the story that Attorney General Tom Reilly is calling on the other candidates to disclose their income tax returns. Instead, the story is that Democratic Party Chairman Phil Johnston has taken sides in the debate with Reilly and against fellow Democratic candidate Deval Patrick. According to Johnston, the only way for a candidate to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest is to release all their financial information, above and beyond what is required by Massachusetts law. Reilly has done this, but Patrick, Republican Kerry Healey and Independent Christy Mihos all have refused. As Keller noted with barely concealed glee, "Who needs Republicans? Democrats are fighting amongst themselves!"

In Keller's piece, he notes that Senator Kennedy does not release his tax returns, but Johnston does not have a problem with this because Kennedy is a Federal candidate and the federal financial disclosure forms are more comprehensive than anything the state-level candidates have to fill out. If this is the case, then is seems to me that the problem is not with the candidates, but with the disclosure requirements. After all, it's silly to expect candidates to disclose any information that they are not required to release. If candidates faced any electoral consequences by not releasing their tax returns, Governor Shannon O'Brien would be seeking her reelection this year. It does not make sense for a self-funding candidate to make their tax returns public because that information will tip off their opponents as to how much they can spend on themselves. The advantage of not disclosing far outweighs the the disadvantages. As such, the only way to get this information out of candidates is to compel them.

The bottom line: don't blame Deval Patrick, Christy Mihos and Kerry Healey that the rules are lax. Work to change the rules, because trusting any candidate to disclose potential financial conflicts out of the goodness of their heart makes no sense.