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Thursday, May 6, 2010 08:52 pm

Brady’s many unhappy returns


Bill Brady

I was out with some political buddies the other night and the subject of Bill Brady’s taxes came up.

Just about everybody agreed that Brady should never have released his tax returns. All he did was make a bad situation worse, they said.

The Republican gubernatorial nominee released his returns four years ago when he ran for governor the first time. The returns showed he earned well into six figures and had lots of successful businesses. Nobody paid much attention at the time because Brady was an unknown state senator with little chance of winning the GOP nomination.

But when “tax day” came around this year, reporters asked the new nominee if he’d release his returns again. He said he wouldn’t, claiming that the last time his business suffered. Brady’s refusal sparked a few stories, but things really heated up when Gov. Pat Quinn stepped into the fray.

Quinn asked what Brady was hiding and demanded that Brady put the public interest before his private business interests. Brady eventually relented, but only to a point. He said he’d allow reporters to look at his returns for three hours that Friday afternoon in his Springfield campaign office. No copies would be distributed. Look only.

Chicago reporters were not amused. Not only would the returns be released 200 miles from their home base, but Brady had scheduled the unveiling around the same time that the family bank of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias was going to be seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Brady was obviously trying to bury the story on a busy Friday, when it would get lost over the weekend.

Springfield-based reporters weren’t all that happy either. A glimpse of several years of complicated tax returns didn’t seem adequate.

But what we found was fascinating. Brady had declared so many losses on his businesses that he paid no state or federal income taxes at all for 2008, and no federal income taxes for 2009.

Also, the conservative Republican had used a tax break from President Barack Obama’s stimulus law to avoid paying federal taxes last year.

So, Brady was triple-troubled. He had most political reporters peeved at him and he handed them a story about not paying taxes on his state senate salary of about $75,000 a year. He had money to loan his campaign tens of thousands of dollars during that same time, but he chose instead to use a provision in the much-hated (by his Republican “base”) stimulus law to pay zero income tax.

So, instead of fading away into the weekend, the story kept going strong. Editorial boards and columnists weighed in. Reporters started combing through what they had for more tidbits, and in the meantime they wrote stories about Brady’s refusal to provide them with copies of his returns as Gov. Quinn had done. Something they haven’t written about yet is that Brady actually got a state income tax refund of over $1,600 on what appears to be his withholding taxes on his Senate paychecks. Not good.

Brady told me last week that when his businesses started to wane as the economy tanked, he and his partners decided to go into the red rather than lay people off or shut down the companies. That’s honorable. If you have the cash to keep the businesses open, you should do what you can.

But Brady probably should’ve kicked a few bucks into the tax till for that legislative gig of his. At the very least, he should not have asked for a refund to bring his total tax bill down to zero. He had a right to the tax breaks he got, but he wasn’t required to do it.

Maybe my buddies were correct. Maybe Brady should’ve just mummed up and took the heat for not disclosing his returns. That story might’ve gone away in a few days. The resulting attack TV ad wouldn’t have been pleasant, but they would’ve been better than what we’ll see now: “Bill Brady funneled tens of thousands of dollars into his own campaign fund while he paid no income taxes on his legislative salary.” Oof.

Then again, I have to respect Brady for opening himself up to this hit, regardless of whether I agree with the rest of what he did. There’s no law (yet) requiring candidates to disclose their tax returns, but Brady swallowed hard and took his lumps. Now, if he’d just send us some actual copies of those returns....

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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