CNN Pair: Clintons' Tax Return Shows How 'Middle-Classy' They Are

August 15th, 2016 7:30 AM

The Hillary Clinton campaign released the 2015 joint federal income tax return filed by Mrs. Clinton and her ex-President husband Bill this week. Among other things, the Clintons reported total income of over $10.7 million, incurred income and self-employment taxes of over $3.6 million, and deducted $1 million for a charitable contribution to (imagine that) the Clinton Foundation.

According to CNN's Errol Louis and Kate Bolduan, as seen in a discussion Sunday on CNN's Inside Politics, the contents of the Clintons' return make them seem "more middle classy."

Louis's pathetic argument is that the Clintons did not take advantage of some of the tax loss-generating opportunities used by other well-to-do taxpayers.

Besides the fact that the not-mentioned Clinton Foundation charitable deduction contradicts that claim, the fact is that one generally cannot immediately shelter the speaking fees and book royalties that are the couple's primary income sources:

Transcript (bolds are mine):

KATE BOLDUAN: (regarding Donald Trump releasing his tax returns — Ed.) ... except legally he's not bound, since (Trump says) wait until the (IRS) audit is over. We have now heard that many, many, many times.But we're talking about it again, because Hillary Clinton made the move and said she was going to release her 2015 tax returns even though no one was really asking her to release them. Don't we all love transparency, more than less, more transparency than less. What did we, what did we learn, Errol?

ERROL LOUIS: Well, I think we learned that, as is, in keeping with her past practices, it's a document that could be fairly called I think a somewhat political document.

Uh, she didn't seek out tax, uh, breaks that she was clearly eligible for, and almost nobody at that level of, of income, and $10 million is a whole lot of money — which she made while campaigning by the way, she wasn't really doing very much work — um, she didn't, she didn't buy farms, she didn't buy rental property, she didn't set herself up for passive income. She basically treated herself like a middle-class taxpayer with a couple of extra zeroes at the end of her, of her income for the year.

And I think that is intended to sort of make her more like the rest of us. We remember four years ago —

BOLDUAN: More middle-classy. (Panel laughs.)

LOUIS: More middle-classy.

(break in the video)

LOUIS: When we found out four years that Mitt Romney was paying an effective rate around 14 percent because he got so much investment income — basically acting like a wealthy person trying to take advantage of the breaks to which he was entitled — it didn't work so well for him politically. It didn't kill his campaign, but it didn't help his campaign. Um, Hillary Clinton wants to help her campaign.

BOLDUAN: 60 percent of their income came from speeches. That opens you up for another conversation about, about releasing the transcripts. They clearly think it's worth any risk of what they're putting out.

The last thing the Hillary Clinton campaign needs to worry about is establishment press pressure from the likes of CNN to release her paid speech transcripts. What in the world can someone say in 40 minutes that's worth a quarter-million dollars?

As to what Louis said about the Clintons' return, his primary contention that the couple is acting "middle-classy" by not taking advantage of tax breaks conveniently ignores the couple's unusually small amount of reported income ($109,000) from investments.

The Clintons have "earned" an estimated $230 million since leaving the White House — "dead broke," according to Mrs. Clinton — in January 2001.

This includes $153 million from paid speeches, usually with additional expenses involved paid by the hosts.

It also includes millions in book royalties, including an $8 million advance paid to Mrs. Clinton for Living History, her 2003 book on her time as First Lady while Bill was president, and $3 million to Mrs. Clinton in 2015 alone.

U.S. taxpayers have shelled out about $1 million per year to Mr. Clinton for his Harlem office and pension since his presidency ended.

$109,000 is a ludicrously small amount of reported investment income for a couple who has taken in so much income while incurring very little in the way of required living expenses. Either the Clintons have been extraordinarily profligate, i.e., not "middle-classy," in their lifestyles, or they have invested a great deal of money in vehicles that either are not generating immediate income, or are generating income in places like the Cayman Islands that the IRS can't touch.

Then there are the charitable contributions, almost all of which went to the Clinton Foundation:


Forming one's own foundation is a classic and perfectly legal tax dodge usually only available to the fabulously wealthy. It's a nice deal if you can afford the accountants and lawyers to set it up. You "give" money to an organization whose efforts and finances you control. This year alone, the deduction reduced the Clintons' tax bill by well over $300,000.

To be fair, most of those who form foundations embark on noble causes. That hardly seems the case with the Clinton Foundation, given that several transparency experts have criticized its practices, with one calling it a "slush fund," and that the FBI has reportedly been investigating its activities for possible corruption.

Louis's Romney comparison is also bogus on two levels. The first is that the tax rate on capital gains from investments, which were Romney's primary source of income at Bain Capital, has, for better or worse, been lower than the tax rate on ordinary "earned" income for over a half-century. The second is that Bain, with a fair degree of success, built companies which created jobs and wealth, while the Clintons have with their speeches been milking the system by extracting payments from those who hope to receive favorable treatment or at least wish to be left alone by the federal regulatory apparatus should Mrs. Clinton, whose ambitions have been well-known since the end of Bill's second term, win the presidency.

Louis's "analysis" is breathtakingly ignorant. Bolduan's characterization that the Clintons' release of their return is an attempt to look "middle-classy" is a sick joke.

Only two people completely in the tank for Mrs. Clinton could possibly believe that the Clintons' 2015 tax return makes them look "middle-classy."

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