In response to calls to release his tax returns, Donald Trump has responded with any number of dodges. In January, he said that he was planning to release them. “We’re working on that now. I have big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful and we’ll be working that over in the next period of time.” More recently, he has claimed that he could not release the returns until the IRS audit (that has been ongoing for, take your pick, the last three years or the last 12 years) was concluded. The IRS has noted that being the subject of an audit in no way prevents Mr. Trump from releasing his returns. And, of course, he could also release returns from previous years. Trump has also claimed that his filing of a financial-disclosure form with the FEC fulfills his obligation to offer transparency.
Bradley Smith, former chairman of the FEC and one the nation’s experts on campaign-finance law, explains that the financial disclosure form is nothing like a tax return.
The purpose of the financial disclosure forms is not to present a person’s income or net worth. Assets are reported in ranges (e.g. $1 million–$5 million), so that it is a very rough guide to wealth. The purpose is not to tell us a whole lot about finances, but to guard against conflicts and potential conflicts of interest.
In other words, yes, they have a lot of info. But the reason candidates release their tax returns, and have done so (not by law, but by tradition) for many decades is that they tell you a lot more about the candidate — more detailed information on income, sources of income, sales resulting in gains and losses, foreign holdings, charitable contributions, etc.
For what it’s worth, here is the financial disclosure Trump filed.