Trump’s not-so-secret truth
Donald Trump’s wall of secrecy and security is slowly being chipped away in the final weeks of a bruising presidential election.
Over the weekend, the New York Times published the first glimpse inside the Republican nominee’s financial history, and while it didn’t reveal wrongdoing it did raise eyebrows.
Trump’s 1995 state tax returns, anonymously mailed to the Times and verified through his accountant of the period, show that he declared a $916 million net operating loss, a tax deduction so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years. His campaign has not released his tax returns so far, something that every presidential candidate has done for decades, claiming that they are subject to an Internal Revenue Service audit and he has been advised by counsel to not release them.
While his campaign did not deny the veracity of the records published by the Times, it said, as a good businessman, he intends to decrease his tax burden as much as possible.
While we understand that argument, what the Times’ reviews of Trump’s dealings have found time and again is that the businessman has exploited and fought for every available tax break possible in order to increase his bottom line. When he sought to tear down a viable Manhattan store with hundreds of employees in order to build Trump Tower, New York City rejected a tax break meant for redeveloping vacant spaces. Trump sued and lost, but appealed to the state’s higher court where he won — receiving a 10-year tax abatement valued at $22.5 million.
His first major project, the Grand Hyatt hotel, which is a major subject in his bestselling book “The Art of the Deal,” was directly benefited by a record 40-year tax break that has cost New York City $360 million to date with four years remaining. The hotel’s owners have paid the city $202 million in the same period and have previously tried to undercut their obligation. An accounting of 1986 returns found glaring discrepancies, and following a lawsuit, the hotel’s partners paid a $850,000 settlement.
Trump has reaped at least $885 million in tax breaks, grants and other subsidies for luxury apartments, hotels and office buildings in New York, according to a Times investigation.
But Trump’s opportunistic side didn’t just reside in Manhattan.
In the early 2000s, as his Atlantic City casinos continued to fail and New Jersey sought up to $30 million in long-overdue back taxes, the state conveniently approved a settlement of just $5 million. What raised eyebrows then? Trump’s best buddy, Chris Christie, had recently been elected governor.
But the question remains: So what? Why should we care if Trump is a shark?
After all, Trump even said during the first debate that not paying taxes “makes me smart.”
It matters because the evidence has shown time and again that he does what is best for himself, even when it comes at the expense of everyone else.
For example, between 1995 and 2009 when his Atlantic City casinos were failing, Trump created a publicly traded company and named himself president, earning about $45 million along the way. Ordinary investors in the new company, however, saw the value of their shares plunge to 17 cents from $35.50, while scores of contractors went unpaid for work on the casinos and bondholders received pennies on the dollar, the Times found.
When he seeks out tax breaks from governments around the country, ordinary taxpayers are footing the bill while he’s enabled to bump up his condo and building sales with their benefits.
Combine that information with the fact that analysis of the tax plan put forward by his campaign finds he would repeal taxes, but mostly for the uber-rich. He proposes to repeal the estate tax, which would dramatically benefit old wealth families like his own, on the belief that they would then trickle down those savings to the rest of us.
Top that off with perhaps the best nugget of reporting from the Times this past week, coming from Trump’s now retired accountant: the business “genius” asked fewer questions about his prepared tax returns than his ex-wife did and rarely showed interest in the strategy used to estimate his return.
When Trump says that no one knows more about America’s tax code than he does, there is little evidence that is true. What we do know is that he had a great accountant, exploited public funds to build his empire and is afraid to let Americans know that.