Warren, Brown and the optics of income tax returns
Let the name calling begin. The latest salvo in class warfare, Bay State edition , finds Elizabeth Warren trying to shake off the “elitist hypocrite” label bestowed upon her by US Sen. Scott Brown.
As the two candidates jockey over just how many years of tax returns they will release, neither candidate is likely to emerge unscathed in the battle between two people who have the financial security that most voters can only dream of.
Warren’s impulse to release two years of tax returns won’t burnish her image if Brown decides to release six. The Brown campaign has already cannily laid a trap for Warren, who has multiple millions in assets and investments, by asking if she voluntarily paid a higher state tax rate.
Brown doesn’t get off scot free, however. The senator’s barn-coat-pickup-truck-man-of the-people image (and new Southie persona) belies the fact that he, like Warren, also has reported assets that tipped the million dollar mark. When reporters pored over his 2008 financial records, they found that he owned five properties including a time share in Aruba and beach front property in New Hampshire.
The interest in the Warren/Brown tax return episode promises to rival the Mitt Romney-Barack Obama comparative worth contest and provides some important lessons about the political optics of tax returns.
Dueling tax returns is a fight that Romney, who has already filed for an extension on his 2011 return, is never going to win. When Forbes senior editor-at-large Allan Sloan scanned the Obama and Romney 2010 tax returns, he proclaimed multi-millionaire Republican the loser in the public relations war.
It’s not just Romney’s nearly $22 million in income (and 13.9 percent tax rate) that rankles Sloan. “Politically clueless” is how he describes Romney’s return, which includes “a Swiss bank account and tacky looking tax credits.” Obama gets a nod for being more “politically astute” for decisions related to his nearly $790,000 income (and 20.5 percent tax rate), including steering nearly $50,000 of his book royalties into retirement instruments.
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