Several media outlets advanced comparison between Cindy McCain's and Teresa Heinz Kerry's release of tax info, ignoring key distinction

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Several media outlets have reported that Sen. John McCain's campaign justified refusing to release Cindy McCain's tax returns by citing Sen. John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, as "precedent." But they did not report that, in contrast with Cindy McCain, Heinz Kerry did release a part of her 2003 income tax return that showed "total income," which enabled The New York Times to analyze how she benefited from the Bush tax cuts. Such an analysis of how the McCains have benefited from the tax cuts -- which Sen. McCain supports extending permanently -- is not possible, based on the information his campaign has released on Cindy McCain's income.

Several media outlets have reported that Sen. John McCain's campaign justified refusing to release Cindy McCain's tax returns by citing the Sen. John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, as "precedent." But they did not report that, while Heinz Kerry did not provide her full tax returns, she did release what an October 16, 2004, New York Times article described as a "small part of her 2003 income tax return": a "two-page document" showing "total income of $5,073,554 last year." Heinz Kerry's release enabled the Times to do an analysis to determine how much she had benefited from the Bush tax cuts, which John McCain supports extending permanently.

In contrast to the Kerry campaign, the McCain campaign has released only the "Wages and Salaries" that Cindy McCain received in 2006 and 2007 as chair of Hensley & Co. and Cindy and John McCain's share of interest income from a bank account and their shares of income from John McCain's book royalties; it did not reveal any capital gains income from that period. Therefore, a similar analysis of how the McCains have benefited over the past two years from the Bush tax cuts is not possible, based on Cindy McCain's release alone. These media reports, therefore, have advanced the McCain campaign's comparison between Cindy McCain's limited release of financial information and Heinz Kerry's, and in doing so, ignored a key distinction in the information they released: Unlike Heinz Kerry, Cindy McCain did not release sufficient information for the public to determine the extent to which she benefited from the tax cuts her husband supports extending.

Media outlets reporting on the McCain campaign's comparison without noting this distinction include:

  • In an April 18 post on the ABCNews.com blog Political Radar, Bret Hovell reported: "The McCain campaign pointed to John Kerry and his wife Theresa [sic] Heinz Kerry as precedent for the spouse of a presidential candidate keeping financial information private. In 2004 when the Massachusetts Senator was running for the White House, his wife's tax returns were not released."
  • In an April 18 post on the Chicago Tribune blog The Swamp, staff writer Frank James reported: "McCain advisers who talked with reporters this morning made sure to point out that the 2004 presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee that year, didn't release the returns of Teresa Heinz (as in ketchup) Kerry, whose wealth far exceeeded [sic] her husband's."
  • In an April 18 post to the washingtonpost.com political blog, The Trail, Washington Post staff writer Matthew Mosk reported: "[McCain] [c]ampaign officials said the decision not to release Cindy McCain's returns was based, in part, on the precedent set by the 2004 Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry, whom they said did not share details of his wife's fortune."

Further, a separate April 18 ABCNews.com blog post by ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper on his Political Punch blog noted that Heinz Kerry had released what Tapper called "a paltry two pages of information about her finances." But, like Hovell, Tapper did not note that this release allowed the Times to do its analysis of how the Bush tax cuts affected Heinz Kerry. Hovell linked to Tapper's post, saying only: "For more, read ABC News' Jake Tapper's blog on McCain's financial 'non-disclosure.' "

The 2004 Times article reported of Heinz Kerry:

She was a big beneficiary of the reductions in tax rates on dividends and capital gains that have been enacted under President Bush. She collected more than $2.2 million in dividends, all of which qualified for the new 15 percent tax rate, saving her $440,000, compared with the 35 percent rate that previously applied to dividends for those with million dollar-plus incomes."

Mr. Kerry, during the campaign, has proposed raising income taxes and dividends taxes on Americans who make over $200,000 back to the levels that they were before 2001, changes that would have an effect on his wife.

While an analysis such as the one the Times performed is not possible given what the McCain campaign has released, in his presidential disclosure form, in reporting "Assets and Income of Cindy McCain (Spouse) and Dependent Children," McCain disclosed "over $1,000,000" in dividend income from Hensley & Co. stock, "$100,001 to $1,000,000" in capital gains from Arizona Bank and Trust stock, and "$50,001 to $100,000" in dividend income from Anheuser-Busch stock from the period between January 1, 2006, and May 15, 2007. It is therefore likely that Cindy McCain is benefiting from the Bush tax cuts on dividends and capital gains, but it is not possible to determine the extent to which she is benefiting.

After opposing President Bush's tax cuts in 2001, McCain voted against legislation in 2003 to accelerate the tax reductions enacted in the 2001 bill and to cut taxes on dividends and capital gains. However, in February 2006, he cast a vote in favor of extending the 2003 tax cuts on capital gains and dividends through 2010 (the vote was technically against eliminating the tax cut extension). When asked during the April 2, 2006, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press why he had changed his position, McCain replied: "I do not believe in tax increases. ... The tax cuts are now there and voting to revoke them would have been to -- not to extend them would have meant a tax increase." In May 2006, McCain voted for the final version of the tax bill, which extended the tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. A press release on McCain's campaign website asserts, "John McCain will make the Bush income and investment tax cuts permanent."

From Hovell's Political Radar post:

The campaign of Senator John McCain has released his tax returns for last two years.

[...]

What the campaign did not release were the tax returns of McCain's wife. Cindy McCain, the chair of a beer distributorship in Phoenix, files a return separate from McCain. Her assets are estimated in the tens of millions of dollars, though she has not loaned money to McCain's presidential campaign.

The McCain campaign pointed to John Kerry and his wife Theresa Heinz Kerry as precedent for the spouse of a presidential candidate keeping financial information private. In 2004 when the Massachusetts Senator was running for the White House, his wife's tax returns were not released.

McCain's Senate salary in 2007 was $161,708. The money he received as royalties for his five books, including the bestselling "Faith of my Fathers," increased by nearly $100,000 from 2006 to 2007, when McCain was back in the spotlight with his presidential bid.

From Mosk's washingtonpost.com post:

McCain took in $420,000 in income last year, and $320,000 in 2006 -- far less than the earnings posted by his Democratic rivals, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, in those years. The comparison is not a direct one, though, as McCain and his wife, Cindy, file separate returns. The campaign opted to release only the senator's returns, which show his income from his Senate salary, his various book deals, his military pension and Social Security.

Campaign officials said the decision not to release Cindy McCain's returns was based, in part, on the precedent set by the 2004 Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry, whom they said did not share details of his wife's fortune.

"Since the beginning of their marriage, Senator McCain and Mrs. McCain have always maintained separate finances," the campaign said in a statement accompanying copies of the returns. "As required by federal law and Senate rules, Mrs. McCain has released significant and extensive financial information through Senate and Presidential disclosure forms. In the interest of protecting the privacy of her children, Mrs. McCain will not be releasing her personal tax returns."

From James' The Swamp post:

Sen. Barack Obama, meanwhile, has disclosed that he made $4.2 million in 2007, much of that royalties from his two books.

So McCain will be under intense pressure to release his wife tax information since the senator enjoys the benefit of not just his salary, but his wife's fortune as well. It would be impossible to afford the McCains' eight houses on his Senate salary alone, for instance.

McCain advisers who talked with reporters this morning made sure to point out that the 2004 presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee that year, didn't release the returns of Teresa Heinz (as in ketchup) Kerry, whose wealth far exceeeded her husband's. That wealth helped keep Kerry's campaign financially afloat at one point when he borrowed against the family's mansion on Beacon Hill in Boston.

Still, Kerry wasn't running as the champion of straight talk. it's going to be difficult, if not impossible, for McCain to claim the mantle of transparency and forthrightness if he doesn't make his wife's financial information available.

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, ABC, Chicago Tribune, ABCNews.com
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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