THE BLOG
02/13/2008 01:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Won't Hillary Clinton Release Her Tax Returns?

Hillary Clinton claims she's battle-tested, but she won't let the public test her tax returns. While Barack Obama has released his into the clutches of the forensic accounting crowd, she's steadfastly refused to make hers available. The only financial disclosure she's made is the obligatory filing that is similar to what members of Congress have to produce, but which has far less detail than the actual tax returns would provide.

In fact, the disclosure documents are essentially a shield, revealing only "income sources and investment holdings in broad financial categories" notes ABC News. They disclose "...only a fraction of the information available on tax returns."

Truth is, she's following in the footsteps of her joint-filing spouse. According to ABC, "Since 1984, only one major presidential candidate -- Bill Clinton in 1992 -- has refused to release the tax forms he sent to the Internal Revenue Service."

If you asked 100 people who was the only post-Watergate candidate to defy the convention of allowing voters the transparency of mucking around in their tax return, how many do you think would say it's Bubba, who might have had a messy private life, but who had been a dedicated public servant -- laboring as a multi-term, underpaid governor of a poor state while he could have been making big bucks in the private sector.

It's one thing to argue that your personal life should be private, but your financial life needs full, Linda Tripp-like, hospital-gown exposure. If anything, after waterboarding, it's a time for over-boarding. (By the way, to be honest President Clinton did release his tax forms in 1996, as did Bob Dole, who also went back 30 years.)

But enough about Bill. The question at hand is why Senator Clinton is allowing this to remain a political issue, and encouraging us to savor the hidden treasures -- questionable sources of income, wily tax moves, inappropriate pantsuit deductions -- rather than swiftly removing it from the table by taking those suckers out of the vault?

Does her refusal entitle us to think the worse? I believe it does, given that her campaign is masterful at calculation, that it must have done the strategic arithmetic and decided that the heat they're taking for non-disclosure is less hellish than the alternative. After all, as ABC pointed out, "Only tax forms would reveal whether a wealthy candidate -- many of the 2008 candidates are multimillionaires -- have used loopholes to duck taxes."

Senator Clinton's position is symptomatic of a deeply troubling, imbricated pattern of her campaign: selectively playing-by-the-rules, while universally claiming the high ground as both moral leader and political victim. In the current New Yorker, Rick Hertzberg writes:

"For some Democrats, a final straw has been the Clinton campaign's sudden interest in changing the rules. In Nevada, where the state's Democratic Party had provided special caucus sites for casino workers, Clinton allies tried to get them shut down after a union representing many of those workers endorsed Obama.

The Democratic National Committee warned the Party's affiliates in Michigan and Florida that if they moved their primaries ahead of Tsunami Tuesday they would lose their Convention delegates. They did so anyway, and now Clinton -- whose names was the only one on the Michigan ballot and who carried Florida, where no one campaigned -- is demanding that the two states' delegates be accredited."

Let's forget for a moment the vulnerabilities this creates for Senator Clinton's ability to withstand the Republican attack machine -- which happens to be a large part of her electability argument. There's a more fundamental issue at stake: how can someone with murky finances herself, become the galvanic force required to break the pay-to-play slime that lubricates Washington? (And yes, those on the mixed metaphor watch, slime can indeed lubricate.)

Senator Clinton's supporters argue that her experience matters, that she knows her way around Washington. Hmm. "Knows her way around things." You couldn't come up with a richer double-entendre if you tried.