POLITICS
06/01/2016 01:24 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2016

Here's The Truest Thing Donald Trump Has Said This Election

Disclosure laws in this country really do suck.
Presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump has five liabilities above $50 million. At least two of those $50 million loans are
JEWEL SAMAD via Getty Images
Presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump has five liabilities above $50 million. At least two of those $50 million loans are to foreign-owned Deutsche Bank, which has tried to work around U.S. banking regulations. 

WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump has lied so many times this presidential election campaign that the very value of truth in politics seems meaningless. But there’s one thing the presumptive GOP nominee and his campaign have said with uncharacteristic correctness: Candidate financial disclosure laws suck.

By law, candidates for federal office and members of Congress have to file a financial disclosure detailing their assets and liabilities. It’s a key element of transparency that helps prevent politicians from pushing policies that further their own pecuniary interests.

But don’t believe for one second that these disclosures really tell you anything about a politician’s wealth. What’s required in these documents sheds little light, the loopholes so egregious there’s hardly any reliability and the ways to mislead so numerous that it all amounts, basically, to a blind-faith, best-guess.

It was in that spirit that Trump released his own financial disclosure last month, providing a picture of his wealth consistent with what he’s said all along -- namely: I get to be worth whatever I say I’m worth.

So bad are the financial disclosure laws that, according to the documents, Trump’s net worth is somewhere in between the billions he claims and the hundreds of millions he may be in debt.

The biggest problem with the businessman's disclosure is perhaps the biggest problem overall. The ranges in the disclosures start between $1 and $1,000. But they soon grow exponentially from those small differences to ranges as broad as $5 million to $25 million, $25 million to $50 million, then finally $50 million and above. It’s in that last category where you’ll find Trump Tower, which the reality TV personality claims would fetch $2 billion on the open market, but is counted as $50 million.

“This report was not designed for a man of Mr. Trump's massive wealth,” his campaign said in a press release last July, unintentionally reaching the zenith of truth in a campaign marked by falsehoods.

It’s undeniable that the ultra-rich seem to be a second thought in these disclosures, but perhaps even more troubling is how unconcerned the law seems to be with someone like Trump taking out massive loans.

He has five liabilities above $50 million. Two of those (at least) $50 million loans are to foreign-owned Deutsche Bank, which raises its own set of thorny ethical issues, as Mother Jones points out. The man who could potentially be the next president could owe $100 million -- almost certainly more, in fact -- to a bank that has tried to work around U.S. banking regulations. 

We don’t know how much Trump actually owes. And because we don’t know the extent of those liabilities -- or his assets -- there’s no way to reliably determine his net worth from these documents.

Trump claims his net worth is greater than $10 billion, while the respected business magazine Forbes, who devoted unprecedented resources to the question, says it’s closer to $4.5 billion. (Forbes, for the record, says Trump Tower, after the $100 million loan on it is paid off, has a net value of roughly $530 million.)

The presidential candidate has assets including Trump National Doral, but the financial disclosures don’t pro
Joe Raedle via Getty Images
The presidential candidate has assets including Trump National Doral, but the financial disclosures don’t provide an accurate picture of wealth.

Whatever the real worth, Trump is right; these financial disclosures don’t provide an accurate picture of wealth -- not when someone like him or Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) have multiple assets and liabilities in those max categories.

At those top levels of wealth, where precision in a politician’s finances probably matter more than nailing down whether a Congressman has a credit card with a balance of less than $1,000, the disclosures are wholly inadequate.

But there are plenty more problems with personal financial disclosures. For House lawmakers and candidates going for that chamber, one notable issue is that bank accounts not gathering interest aren’t required to be disclosed. A member could potentially put millions in a non-interest account and never tell anyone, functionally meaning a food stamp recipient goes through more stringent financial accounting than a member of Congress.

In the Senate and for executive branch employees, you only need to disclose a bank account if it has more than $5,000 in it or generated more than $200 in income, which is still more lenient than the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Members of Congress also don’t need to disclose their personal residences as assets -- or their mortgages as liabilities. They don’t even need to disclose a vacation home, if they’re not renting it out.

All these loopholes make it impossible to actually know where a politician’s money comes from. 

Take, for example, the case of 27-year-old congressional candidate Justin Fareed. The Republican was aged 25 when he first ran for Congress last cycle and loaned himself nearly $200,000. Fareed had only been in the workforce for a couple of years and had made less than $100,000 in total income over that period.

The “third generation rancher” reported in 2014 that he had six assets with a minimum worth of $153,006 and a maximum value of $396,000. After loaning himself the money, Fareed reported in 2015 that his assets had appreciated to between $217,006 and $581,000. This was while he was making $5,000 in all of 2014 and $25,000 as of May 2015.

That may raise some questions, but within the broad ranges of financial disclosure, Fareed could come close to covering the expenses of his campaign, though his campaign told The Huffington Post that the money came from regular disbursements out of his "intergenerational trust fund." That’s presumably listed on his financial disclosure as “Northern Trust,” but the disclosure doesn’t designate what exactly the trust is and Fareed doesn’t break out what investments are contained in that asset.

The truth is the public can’t make a complete judgment with incomplete information -- and that’s what we have. Adam Rappaport, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington chief counsel

That may raise some questions, but within the broad ranges of financial disclosure, Fareed could come close to covering the expenses of his campaign, though his campaign told The Huffington Post that the money came from regular disbursements out of his "intergenerational trust fund." That’s presumably listed on his financial disclosure as “Northern Trust,” but the disclosure doesn’t designate what exactly the trust is and Fareed doesn’t break out what investments are contained in that asset.

There may be some clarity in Fareed's 2016 disclosure, which was due May 15, but he hasn't filed it. The late fees on blowing off the disclosure will come to a whopping $200.

While such finances might raise some eyebrows, there are plenty of possible explanations that make it impossible to know where Fareed's money came from. He co-owns a home with his parents, so he could have taken out a home equity line of credit on his personal residence, which he is not obligated to disclose. Candidates can also take loans out from a retirement account, which does not need to be disclosed and, miraculously, does not lower the reported value of the asset.

If the point of these disclosures is to give the public a broad picture of a politicians investments, that’s one thing. Generally, the public can get a sense of someone’s financial interests through these documents. But it’s impossible to really know anything.

“The truth is the public can’t make a complete judgment with incomplete information,” Adam Rappaport, the chief counsel and assistant director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told HuffPost. “And that’s what we have. We have some information, but not enough, and not enough precision.”

Trump’s latest financial disclosure is full of incomplete accounting, as Politico noted this week. Getting him to his self-estimated 11-figure net worth requires the sort of blind faith Trump demanded from the press on Tuesday.

In response to a number of questions about Trump’s financial disclosure, campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks told Politico, “The report speaks for itself.”

As the campaign noted in July, it doesn’t.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S. 

 
HuffPost

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