Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cindy McCain refuses to release her tax returns. This is not just a questionable political decision that threatens to haunt her husband’s campaign for the next six months. It is also the wrong decision. Mrs. McCain needs to change her mind and release the returns as quickly as possible. How Republican John McCain, the presumptive presidential nominee who rightly fancies himself the king of transparency on Capitol Hill, and his campaign strategists can permit this open sore to fester is unimaginable.

As the chairman of the Anheuser-Busch distributorship Hensley & Co., which her father founded, Mrs. McCain is an heiress whose income and assets will directly benefit from the tax policies espoused by her husband. Mr. McCain would also benefit. Taxpayers and voters are entitled to know how much these benefits will be.

With a net worth estimated in the range of $100 million, Mrs. McCain would directly benefit from her husband’s pledge to permanently extend the top income-tax rate of 35 percent (which was lowered from 39.6 percent in 2001), the top capital gains tax rate of 15 percent (which was lowered from 20 percent in 2003) and the top dividend tax rate of 15 percent (which was lowered from 38.6 percent in 2003). Mr. McCain opposed those cuts in 2001 and 2003, but now wants to make them permanent. The McCains may also derive great benefit from his promise to completely eliminate the individual alternative minimum tax. Until she releases her tax returns, voters cannot know for certain.

Moreover, during a crucial period of the Republican nomination contest — from last August (after Mr. McCain’s campaign had collapsed financially) through February (when its remarkable political rebound effectively clinched the Republican nomination) — Mrs. McCain used accoutrements of her wealth to keep her husband’s campaign literally “in the air,” traveling from one campaign stop to another.

Many of those photos you saw of Mr. McCain carrying his own luggage through airports during that seven-month period were snapped after he disembarked from the corporate jet owned by the company headed by his wife. According to an exhaustive analysis by the New York Times, Mr. McCain complied with federal law regarding the use of the plane. But he uncharacteristically exploited a massive loophole that the Federal Election Commission has been trying to close. That loophole allowed Mr. McCain to fly relatively inexpensively. The law, whose loophole specifically exempted aircraft owned by a candidate’s family or by a company it controls, enabled the campaign to use that jet as a charter plane while paying much cheaper first-class fares and indulge in a subsidy.

Mrs. McCain needs to end the “privacy” charade and release her tax returns.

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