By Ricky Browne
The issue of how much taxes US President Donald Trump does or doesn’t pay has come to the fore again, with a news story from the New York Times stating that he paid only US$750 in 2016 and 2017.
The report said it had obtained Trump’s tax information that showed chronic losses and tax avoidance, but did not name its sources.
The New York Times said that in 10 of the last 15 years Trump had paid no taxes at all, because he had lost more money than he made. It said that in 2018 Trump had lost more than US$40 million.
But Trump denied the story as did his organization which said he had in fact made more than US$43 million.
“It’s fake news. Totally fake” Trump said, adding that his tax returns have not been released because “they are under audit.”
And according to the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, Alan Garten, “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate”.
“Over the past decade, President Trump has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015,” Garten said.
Later on Monday Trump tweeted in greater detail… “The Fake News Media, just like Election time 2016, is bringing up my Taxes & all sorts of other nonsense with illegally obtained information & only bad intent. I paid many millions of dollars in taxes but was entitled, like everyone else, to depreciation & tax credits…..” his tweet read.
While the amount of tax Trump pays is in dispute, what doesn’t appear to be in dispute is that he donates his entire presidential salary of US$400,000 (minus a token payment of US$1) to charities — something he promised to do in 2015.
That made him at least the third US president to do so, as both Democrat president John F Kennedy and Republican president Herbert Hoover did the same thing. Both were multimillionaires. According to Forbes, Trump’s net worth was US$2.1 billion making him the first billionaire to be president of the US.
In its explanation of why the newspaper was printing the story now, the New York Times said: “We are publishing this report because we believe citizens should understand as much as possible about their leaders and representatives — their priorities, their experiences and also their finances.”
On the cusp of the first presidential debate on September 29 with Democratic contender Joe Biden, the issue is likely to be highlighted on the national stage.
Already Biden has hit out on the subject by retweeting a video from Team Joe on the average amount of taxes paid by professionals in the US. The tweet says, “Teachers paid $7,239 Firefighters paid $5,283 Nurses paid $10,216 Donald Trump paid $750.”
On the subject of how much tax Joe Biden pays, the candidate and his wife Jill were reported to have made US$11 million in 2017, and US$4.6 million in 2018. On that they reportedly paid US$3.7 million in 2017 and US$1.5 milliion in 2018. Previously, while in office as Vice President, Joe Biden and his wife made US$396,000 in income.
Meanwhile, the couple gave about US$1 million to charity in 2017 it was reported, and about US$275,000 in 2018.
Biden has portrayed himself as a hardworking, blue-colour guy, not rolling in loads of money. The income of US$15 million hurts that image.
But Trump has the opposite problem, of looking less wealthy than he actually is, as he has built much of his image and brand on being a successful and rich businessman.
Indeed, whether Donald Trump is actually a billionaire or not may be one of the issues brought up at the presidential debate on Wednesday night.
On the other hand, even if he did only pay US$750 it doesn’t necessarily mean that Trump is not a billionaire, as has been proven by the world’s richest man. Amazon founder and bilionnaire Jeff Bezos has a fortune of about US$138 billion, but in 2018 his company paid US$0 in US federal taxes.
Given that millions of US consumers of all political persuasions continue to buy from Amazon unabated, it remains to be seen if many US voters may decide not to vote for Trump on that basis. It is not a new story, and the effect that it had before the last election was not enough to prevent him from gaining power.