Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Democratic Presidential Contenders Release Tax Returns


During past presidential elections, it's been pretty standard for major party nominees to release tax returns. In 2016, President Trump became the first general election candidate in more than four decades to keep his private. Now, since then Democrats have been pushing for the release of his documents. As that's been happening, a number of 2020 contenders are putting out several years of their returns earlier than hopefuls have in the past. And this includes Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and, as of last night, Bernie Sanders and Beto O'Rourke.

NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro is here. Hi, Domenico.


GREENE: So what numbers should we be paying attention to?

MONTANARO: Well, when we look at these tax returns, we're really looking at three things as top-line numbers to pay attention to. One, income. Second, tax rates. In other words, how much do people pay in taxes? And three, how much do they give to charity? That charitable giving number. What we found out of these things is Kamala Harris' household has the highest income. She and her husband were taxed at the highest rate, as well. Beto O'Rourke, the former congressman, with his wife, they have pretty significant assets and investments. And according to his 2017 tax return, which is the latest that we have, he didn't give very much to charity of - past financial disclosures have found that he's worth almost $10 million. Elizabeth Warren was the most charitable candidate, gave about $50,000 to charity, or about 6 percent of her total household income.

A notable finding, though, from these returns was what it showed about Bernie Sanders. You know, for years, we've talked about how the Vermont independent senator has been one of the least-wealthy members of Congress. He's railed against millionaires and billionaires. But he seems to have cashed in on his 2016 campaign. He wrote a book that made him lots of money. In fact, he made over a million dollars in the years subsequent to the 2016 campaign, a little less in 2018. And that was something he was asked about during a town hall on Fox News last night. Let's take a listen.


BERNIE SANDERS: It was a bestseller. It sold all over the world, and we made money. So if anyone thinks that I should apologize for writing a bestselling book, I'm sorry. I'm not going to do it.

GREENE: Bernie Sanders is not saying he's sorry.

MONTANARO: Exactly. He's defending his book that was - that he wrote that helped make all that money for him. And I have to say, for a democratic socialist, that was a pretty capitalistic response.

GREENE: (Laughter). Are we going to start hearing from more of the Democrats?

MONTANARO: We probably are. We haven't heard from some notable candidates, like Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Ind., mayor, or Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, but they've pledged to release them soon. And Booker, in the past, has released some 15 years of tax returns.

GREENE: And no tax returns, as I mentioned, from President Trump yet. But we are getting some fundraising numbers for the president.

MONTANARO: That's right. And he's raised $30 million for his campaign, most from political committees - all that joint fundraising - think about - that he does at these rallies for the RNC. He's got about $41 million cash on hand. Just $4 million, though, we have to say, comes from small donors, which stands in pretty stark contrast with Democrats, who are drawing a pretty significant share from the grassroots, and they've made that a real focus.

GREENE: NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Related Stories