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Thursday, May 27, 2010 01:29 am

Jason, just release those tax returns

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Republican lieutenant governor candidate Jason Plummer

Republican lieutenant governor candidate Jason Plummer

Twenty years ago, Secretary of State Jim Edgar and Attorney General Neil Hartigan ran for governor against each other. Both men released their tax returns without much fanfare.

Four years later, Gov. Jim Edgar and his opponent Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch both released their tax returns. It wasn’t much of a story.

Then, in 1998, gubernatorial candidate George Ryan released his tax returns for the first time. He had adamantly refused to do so while he was secretary of state. And Ryan continued to refuse to release anything other than his current returns. Most of what he eventually got busted for happened while he was secretary of state, which may be no coincidence.

Four years later, Rod Blagojevich said he had filed a tax extension in April and wouldn’t be disclosing his returns until right before the election. By then, he was so far ahead of his opponent Jim Ryan that it really didn’t matter.

Four years ago, Blagojevich did the same thing and filed a tax filing extension. He finally released his returns in the fall, but only the front pages. He left out all the details that would’ve shown where his wife was making all her money. Turns out, a big chunk of Mrs. Blagojevich’s income was being funneled to her through fine upstanding folks like Tony Rezko.

Now comes 2010, and you’d think after 20 years and two criminal governors that the candidates would learn their lessons. They haven’t.

State Sen. Bill Brady flatly refused to release his tax returns, then finally relented after a media firestorm ensued. It turns out the reason for Brady’s reluctance was that he had paid no federal income taxes for two years on his state senate salary, and no state income taxes on that government salary for one year. Indeed, he had asked for and received full and complete tax refunds. Brady’s businesses lost so much money that he was able to avoid taxes on his state pay.

After the beating that Brady took over his taxes, you might think that his running mate would’ve wanted to avoid the bad press. You’d be wrong.

Jason Plummer is 27. He won his campaign with some hard work and a whole lot of money from himself and his father, a wealthy lumber dealer. Plummer and his father gave or loaned his campaign fund well over $1.3 million.

Shortly after he surprised the establishment by winning his campaign, reporters looked at him a bit more and found that the political unknown had inflated his resume. He often said during the campaign that he’d worked for a Washington, D.C., think tank and a U.S. senator, but he was just an intern. He said he founded and ran an Internet service company, but his father was listed as the owner and Jason wasn’t even on the corporation documents. He’d touted himself as a Naval intelligence officer, but he hadn’t received any training since obtaining his commission last fall.

Plummer repeated the twin mantras of “transparency” and “accountability” just about wherever he went during the primary. He also pledged not to take a state salary if he was elected lt. governor.

Since Plummer’s running mate had disclosed his own income taxes, it was assumed that Plummer would have to follow suit.

Instead, the onetime champion of openness, transparency and accountability adamantly refused to disclose his returns last week. No way, no how, Plummer harumphed. Releasing returns just a “political distraction by those who can not answer the real issues that voters care about,” he said. That doesn’t reflect all that well on his running mate, but whatever.

Plummer claimed last week that voters “need to know any potential conflicts that a public official might have.” But what about a guy who won’t be taking a state salary for four years? Won’t there be numerous potential “conflicts” if he’s still living on his private income without telling us how much he’s making and where it’s coming from?

The last two governors who played games with their tax returns were crooks. That doesn’t make Brady and Plummer crooks, but in an era when we ought to do everything we can to avoid the mistakes of the past, it’s a fair hit.

Just release the returns and get it over with, man.

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

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