What significance could the information in Donald Trump's tax return have to his campaign? addresses what information could be gleaned from Donald Trump's tax returns if he allowed them to be released. But I wonder why there's so much focus on the tax returns, rather than other financial records.

While there's certainly some useful information there, and you can get a rough picture of a person's overall financial situation, it's still missing quite a bit. A person or corporation's tax return only reports those aspects of their finances that affect their taxes. For instance, you only have to report investments that produced income that year, as well as investments that you've sold so you can report capital gains and losses.

Why not demand access to candidates' more detailed financial records (e.g. net worth statements, budgets, corporate balance sheets)? Is it simply because there's no requirement that individuals keep detailed personal records like this, but tax returns are required, and falsifying them is illegal? But most wealthy people do have accountants and money managers who track their finances, so the records most likely exist and they could be requested. And if they have much of their wealth in businesses, like Trump does, those corporations will have detailed books.

Or is it even simpler: is there no law authorizing Congress to demand this information? And in the current political climate, it would be impossible to pass such a law -- the Republican Senate would not vote for it, and even if it did manage to pass, it wouldn't be by a veto-proof super-majority. On the other hand, there's a 1924 law that allows some congressional committees to obtain the tax returns of any taxpayer, so they go with what they can legally get (Trump is challenging that law, and it will probably end up in the Supreme Court). And even this law doesn't allow the returns to be disclosed publicly, unless the taxpayer consents.

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    Frankly we don't have any rights to demand somebody's personal information may it be taxes or balance sheets, it is voluntarily that candidates disclose their taxes, it is a practice now followed.
    – Up-In-Air
    Aug 14, 2019 at 14:52
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    @Up-In-Air Actually, there is a 1924 law that allows the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain anyone's tax returns.
    – Barmar
    Aug 14, 2019 at 14:58
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    Put that in an answer @Barmar - we'd all like to learn more about this!
    – arpanet101
    Aug 14, 2019 at 15:01
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    This request is not so shocking - in Poland all our elected politicians and top civil servants are required by law among other to list their all major assets and liabilities, however it does not take form of balance sheet.
    – Shadow1024
    Aug 14, 2019 at 19:37
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    FWIW, something like that is indeed required in some (many?) European countries. Obviously it can be intrusive and burdensome but nobody is forced to run for president.
    – Relaxed
    Aug 14, 2019 at 19:44

2 Answers 2


Because there is a custom that presidential candidates share their tax returns.

Most presidential candidates are politicians not business people, so demanding their balance sheets would be meaningless. Beyond that, the few that have been business people, excepting Donald Trump, have put their money in blind trusts. With a blind trust, they don't actually know their balance sheet except at the highest level. And financial disclosures already cover that high level view.

Note that they complain about the financial disclosure information being self-reported. This contrasts with the income tax information, which is usually based on other forms. E.g. salary information is based on W-2 forms.

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    They don't usually put their money in the blind trust until after they're elected, do they?
    – Barmar
    Aug 14, 2019 at 18:02
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    Cater was a buisness man (Peanut Farmer) and put his Buisness in a (poorly run) blind trust while he was President. I'd also like to point out that releasing tax returns is a very new tradition in the Presidential race (I believe it only started after World War II) and was never required by office.
    – hszmv
    Aug 14, 2019 at 18:16
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    Also while no President was charged with tax fraud while in office, at least one Vice President (Spiro Agnew) did resign as Vice President after he was charged with Tax Fraud among other crimes, commited while he was governor of Maryland, so there is precedence that any fraud with Trump's taxes would certainly be grounds for his removal from office. A more benign speculation is that the returns would reveal Trump isn't worth billions and his status as a billionaire was part of his campaign. It's a crime to the IRS... not the voting public.
    – hszmv
    Aug 14, 2019 at 18:27
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    @hszmv Actually even newer than that. Truman released his, but the next was Nixon, and that apparently started the tradition.
    – Barmar
    Aug 14, 2019 at 23:12

Another relatively straightforward pragmatic reason is that a tax return is, at some level, an objective concept and a formal document; while there are, for instance, regulatory requirements on what goes into a balance sheet for a corporation, there's no real formal definition of a balance sheet, particularly on a personal level. Since one of the current fronts in the fight for financial disclosure from candidates is legal (e.g. California's bill SB-27 requiring tax returns for candidates to appear on a primary ballot), using a format for that information that's already codified in law makes it much easier to create new legislation requiring that information.

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    This is perfect. I have upvoted accordingly. I'm deleting my old comments as they are no longer relevant.
    – isakbob
    Aug 14, 2019 at 19:02
  • This also seems like a very good reason.
    – Barmar
    Aug 14, 2019 at 19:40

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