* On Friday afternoon, I was on the phone with a Bill Brady campaign person talking about Jason Plummer’s refusal to release his tax returns. The operative wondered aloud why Attorney General Lisa Madigan hadn’t released her own tax returns. I didn’t really get the point until somebody mentioned in comments later in the day that since AG Madigan is one heartbeat away from the governor’s job (there being no lieutenant governor) she was fair game.
So, I called Madigan’s campaign and left a message with her campaign manager Mary Morrisey about how my thinking had evolved and about how I was now requesting her boss’ returns, just to be fair. I didn’t hear back, so I called again and spoke with Morrisey late in the afternoon. She read me this statement…
“This has nothing to do with Lisa. This is about Bill Brady not releasing his tax returns and Jason Plummer not releasing his tax returns.”
Asked if that meant AG Madigan was refusing to release her returns, Morrisey would only repeat the statement.
* Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn went on the offensive against Plummer’s refusal to disclose his tax returns…
“When these candidates play peek-a-boo, or not at all, with their tax returns, I think there’s legitimate questions to be asked,” said Quinn.
In response to a question, the governor opened a full bore attack on the Republicans running for the state’s top executive offices.
He was asked if thought Plummer was hiding something, Quinn said: “I think that’s a natural conclusion - I don’t think there’s any question about it, you know, when you don’t disclose your tax returns and you’re running for lieutenant governor of Illinois.”
Quinn also took a whack at Brady for not paying income taxes for two years…
“If you’ve got a taxpayer salary, if you have taxpayer paid health insurance, and you don’t pay one penny in taxes… It isn’t right,” said Quinn.
* Plummer responded…
“It’s really frustrating to have an enabler of Rod Blagojevich try to question your ethics or transparency,” Plummer said.
“I’m the guy running for lieutenant governor, not investors or business partners or different people like that. If I release my taxes I’m releasing information about them, and you can’t do that,” Plummer said.
Plummer said releasing full returns with detailed information about business ties is “a standard that hasn’t been set anywhere.”
But Brady, Plummer’s own running mate, let reporters examine six years’ worth of such documents.
Exactly. He has no leg to stand on.
* I got the idea for my weekly syndicated newspaper column from a running debate we had in comments last week…
Twenty years ago, Secretary of State Jim Edgar and Attorney General Neil Hartigan ran for governor against each other. Both men released their tax returns without much fanfare.
Four years later, Gov. Jim Edgar and his opponent Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch both released their tax returns. It wasn’t much of a story.
Then, in 1998, gubernatorial candidate George Ryan released his tax returns for the first time. He had adamantly refused to do so while he was secretary of state. And Ryan continued to refuse to release anything other than his current returns. Most of what he eventually got busted for happened while he was secretary of state, which may be no coincidence.
Four years later, Rod Blagojevich said he had filed a tax extension in April and wouldn’t be disclosing his returns until right before the election. By then, he was so far ahead of his opponent Jim Ryan that it really didn’t matter.
Four years ago, Blagojevich did the same thing and filed a tax filing extension. He finally released his returns in the fall, but only the front pages. He left out all the details that would’ve shown where his wife was making all her money. Turns out, a big chunk of Mrs. Blagojevich’s income was being funneled to her through fine upstanding folks like Antoin “Tony” Rezko.
Now comes 2010, and you’d think after 20 years and two criminal governors that the candidates would learn their lessons. They haven’t.
State Sen. Bill Brady flatly refused to release his tax returns, then finally relented after a media firestorm ensued. It turns out the reason for Brady’s reluctance was that he had paid no federal income taxes for two years on his state Senate salary, and no state income taxes on that government salary for one year. Indeed, he had asked for and received full and complete tax refunds. Brady’s businesses lost so much money that he was able to avoid taxes on his state pay.
After the beating that Brady took over his taxes, you might think that his running mate would’ve wanted to avoid the bad press. You’d be wrong.
Jason Plummer is 27. He won his campaign with some hard work and a whole lot of money from himself and his father, a wealthy lumber dealer. Plummer and his father gave or loaned his campaign fund well over $1.3 million.
Shortly after he surprised the establishment by winning his campaign, reporters looked at him a bit more and found that the political unknown had inflated his resume. He often said during the campaign that he’d worked for a Washington, D.C. think tank and a U.S. Senator, but he was just an intern. He said he founded and ran an Internet service company, but his father was listed as the owner and Jason wasn’t even on the corporation documents. He’d touted himself as a Naval intelligence officer, but he hadn’t received any training since obtaining his commission in the fall.
Plummer repeated the twin mantras of “transparency” and “accountability” just about wherever he went during the primary. He also pledged not to take a state salary if he was elected lieutenant governor.
Since Plummer’s running mate had disclosed his own income taxes, it was assumed that Plummer would have to follow suit.
Instead, the onetime champion of openness, transparency and accountability adamantly refused to disclose his returns last week. No way, no how, Plummer harumphed. Releasing returnsis just a “political distraction by those who cannot answer the real issues that voters care about,” he said. That doesn’t reflect all that well on his running mate, but whatever.
Plummer claimed last week that voters “need to know any potential conflicts that a public official might have.” But what about a guy who won’t be taking a state salary for four years? Won’t there be numerous potential “conflicts” if he’s still living on his private income without telling us how much he’s making and where it’s coming from?
The last two governors who played games with their tax returns were crooks. That doesn’t make Brady and Plummer crooks, but in an era when we ought to do everything we can to avoid the mistakes of the past, it’s a fair hit.
Just release the returns and get it over with, man.
* I was also inspired by comments on a post over at Illinois Review to pull up a press release by Adam Andrzejewski blasting Bill Brady for not releasing his income taxes last year…
“Some people parrot ‘reform’ rhetoric to get elected,” Andrzejewski said, “I want to be elected so that I can enact real reforms. The people of Illinois are intelligent enough to understand that the posting of tax returns is a serious step to reform, not a gimmick. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s ‘Gold Standard’ ethics policy included the posting of tax returns, and after the policy was enacted hundreds of elected officials resigned their posts.”
“I posted my tax return more than two months ago, and I have challenged my opponents to do the same – to prove that they have not benefitted financially from their government positions. None of them have followed suit. When I bring this up on the campaign trail, their embarrassment is not lost on the people in the audience. The people of Illinois get it.”