In response to a couple of Cabinet appointments getting hung up over problems with paying taxes, Politico surveyed the 99 sitting U.S. Senators with a simple, five-question survey to see if any of them ever had problems with their taxes:
1. Do you prepare your own taxes?
2. If not, who does?
3. Have you or the IRS ever discovered an error on a tax return you've filed?
4. Have you ever paid back taxes?
5. If the answer to either 3 or 4 is yes, please explain.
While a handful of Senators noted that they have found errors in past tax returns, resulting in payment of back taxes, what I found far more interesting was who actually returned their surveys and who answered (and who didn't answer).
31 Democratic Senators returned complete surveys, compared with only 12 Republican Senators. Further, 9 Republican Senators returned surveys declining to answer the questions, compared with only 3 Democrats who returned surveys and declined to answer. 2 Republicans returned incomplete surveys. 22 Dems and 18 GOP Senators have not responded. (Additionally, Joe Lieberman has not responded and Bernie Sanders declined to answer.)
Nearly three times as many Democrats returned completed surveys - and nearly three times as many Republicans declined to answer the questions about their taxes.
These results suggest that Democratic Senators are more willing to be transparent, and Republican Senators seemingly have something to hide in their taxes - or, at least, are less willing to be transparent. It's certainly not inappropriate to ask "What are Republican Senators hiding in their tax returns?"
For instance, in Alaska, Democratic Senator Mark Begich returned a completed survey, but Republican Lisa Murkowski declined to answer. The Alaska Democratic Party wasted little time in highlighting Murkowski's lack of transparency:
Alaska Democratic Party Chair Patti Higgins said Alaska's leaders must be completely open and transparent about whether and how they have fulfilled their personal obligations as taxpayers.
"Openness and transparency are especially important now because we need to rebuild trust in our financial institutions and in Congress. Sen. Murkowski's refusal to answer questions from Politico raises further questions," Higgins said.
Murkowski has had a history of financial scandal featuring a sweetheart land deal. In 2007, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) named Lisa Murkowski one of the four most corrupt members of the U.S. Senate. Of course, any political junkie need not be reminded of the general taint that Alaska Republicans have earned due to their widespread corruption, headlined by former Senator Ted Stevens' felony conviction.
A lack of transparency and the specter of corruption will continue to play a role, however subtle, in the 2010 cycle. If one scored Senators based on this Politico survey, one would see a big gap in transparency between the more open Democrats and the more secretive Republicans. Additionally, a situation like this could exacerbate existing ethical questions, as in the case of Republican Lisa Murkowski.