In a January FoxNews Republican primary debate, Ted Cruz raised eyebrows by alluding to Donald Trump’s “New York values,” pointing out that the New York tycoon’s ethos is diametrically opposed to that of millions of small town American voters.
While Cruz’s comments may have struck a nerve for Trump supporters, it appears that Donald Trump’s New York values are decidedly different from even his fellow New Yorkers. That or his wealth is much more comparable to his fellow New Yorkers than he would have everyone believe.
According to the Associated Press, Donald Trump has allegedly been receiving tax credits that legitimately only belong to middle to lower income New Yorkers – those with an income of less than $500,000.
The tax credit is a $302 partial exemption from school property taxes. The exemption was restricted to exclude higher income taxpayers in 2010. That year, Mr. Trump stopped applying for the small exemption. However, in 2013, 2014, and 2015, he suddenly began receiving the benefits that only apply to those taking in less than $500,000.
What makes this triviality so interesting is that recipients of this benefit are required to provide proof of their income when questioned about their eligibility, and yet Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to allow his tax returns to be reviewed.
Although it would seem that such a small amount would be peanuts to the real estate mogul, the issue is attracting attention to an area that has won “The Donald” major support – his perceived wealth.
Amy Spitalnick, a New York City spokesperson, said, “Mr. Trump should not have received this benefit after the income limit law changed, and he should immediately return its value to state taxpayers.” She’s right; unless, of course, Mr. Trump’s income is indeed less than $500,000. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know, since the tax returns that would settle the matter are under wraps.
Trump Tax Returns: Volatile, Desirable, and Elusive – But Why?
“The only way to confirm he was entitled to this was by looking at his tax returns,” a New York attorney with Wagner Berkow LLP commented. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump has made it clear that he is unwilling to make his tax returns available for review – either for his political opponents or for fact-checkers eager to see if he does, in fact, qualify for the $302 tax credit.
It’s not easy to get Mr. Trump to share his tax returns, as his political opponents are discovering. Despite repeated jabs and provocative tax revelations of their own, Trump’s Republican rivals have been unable to tempt him to provide public access to his tax records.
While some tax professionals can understand why the financier is so close-fisted with his records, others speculate about how much he has to lose by withholding them. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, “I think there’s something there. Either he’s not anywhere near as wealthy as he says he is or he hasn’t been paying the kind of taxes we would expect him to pay, or perhaps he hasn’t been giving money to the vets or to the disabled like he’s been telling us he’s doing.”
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz took it a step further, reminding the world of old stories of Trump/mob connections.
The Mob and the Don
According to Wayne Barrett, a New York investigative journalist who wrote the 1992 book, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall, “There was a certain amount of mob association during which the father and he were building, which was very difficult to avoid in the New York construction world.”
He continued, “[Trump] went out of his way not to avoid them, but to increase them.” Barrett’s book, which faced intense scrutiny by legal experts, hasn’t even been read by its subject, Donald Trump. Still, Barrett portrays Trump as one who had no qualms making friends with unsavory underworld types. He said, “While dealing with the concrete cartel was inevitable for any developer in the period when Trump Tower was built, Donald took the relationship several steps further than he had to.”
This history makes Cruz’s guess seem plausible, although others doubt that connections to the mob could be deduced from a government tax document.
If Not the Mafia, Then What?
It’s entirely possible that Trump’s reluctance to reveal his tax records comes from a legitimate desire to follow the counsel of his attorneys. Still, with the presidency at stake, many people believe he owes it to his voters to offer the transparency that the tax returns would provide.
According to Forbes tax expert Kelly Phillips Erb, “No matter how what happens as a result of the audit, what Trump submitted, he did so claiming that it was true at the time. If the IRS makes an adjustment (which happens, even with the best prepared returns), it shouldn’t substantially change the nature of the returns. And if the IRS makes no adjustment, then there was no harm, no foul, in releasing those returns.
“Trump could release those returns at any time…Trump, who prides himself on being a political outsider, has been all about the numbers from day one. He has directly linked his business acumen – and his ability to make money – to his qualification for the presidency. You would think, then, that the numbers would be very important. GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz thinks so, saying about Trump’s returns, ‘The voters need to know.’”
The Trump Fortune: Is It Really So Grand?
The New York executive turned politician has made huge headlines thanks to his entertainer-style rhetoric and his regular reminders to his fans of his legendary wealth. Despite the massive, mobbing crowds that have swallowed his infectious fervor, others aren’t even sure he’s been financially successful. If this should be the case, huge questions must be asked regarding where the money for his “self-funded campaign” has actually originated.
The leading figure in the quest to determine Donald Trump’s monetary worth is New York Times reporter Timothy O’Brien, author of the book, TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald. In this explosive book – which sparked a $5 billion lawsuit by Trump against Mr. O’Brien – O’Brien attempted to shed light on the illustrious figure’s true nature, including his substantive grasp of reality, both nationally and personally.
What O’Brien found was that Donald Trump’s idea of wealth and the rest of the world’s idea of wealth were two very different things. As Trump cooperated with the writing of the book, O’Brien began to realize that Trump’s ideas of wealth were based on his own subjective ideas of how wealthy he felt at the time. After writing the book, Trump sued O’Brien for low-balling his estimates of the mogul’s wealth in the following statement:
”Three people with direct knowledge of Donald’s finances, people who had worked closely with him for years, told me that they thought his net worth was somewhere between $150 million and $250 million. By anyone’s standards this still qualified Donald as comfortably wealthy, but none of these people thought he was remotely close to being a billionaire.”
At the deposition, as the court deliberated over whether or not O’Brien had actually slandered Trump by saying he wasn’t nearly as wealthy as he often claimed, O’Brien’s lawyer asked Trump, “When you publicly state what you’re worth, what do you base that number on?” Trump replied, “I would say it’s my general attitude at the time the question may be asked. And as I say, it varies.”
Even in the midst of the court battle over Donald Trump’s perceived defamation, he was unwilling to turn over his tax returns. In answer to courtroom questions regarding the sum total of his wealth, Trump responded, “These statements…never included the value of the brand. And there are those who say the brand is very, very valuable.” The court responded, “Under generally accepted accounting principles, reputation is not considered a part of a person’s net worth.”
So What’s the Big Secret?
Everyone, Trump supporters or not, has a vested interest in knowing what’s so intriguing about Donald Trump’s tax returns.
His fellow New Yorkers deserve to know that he’s abiding by the same rules they are.
His opponents are licking their chops to discover a chink in the shiny armor of the Donald.
Most importantly, his supporters should know whether or not their leader is everything he claims to be. After all, they are taking up his cause in the face of serious opposition. Being willing to be called racist, bigoted, and worse because of their belief that the man is as successful as he claims, Trump’s supporters are staunch. This leads many to believe that the right thing for Donald Trump to do is to bring his tax returns into the open to show he’s a league above his Democratic opponents. Should he provide voters with access to the truth, the truth will set him free from undue scrutiny and suspicion.
Unfortunately, Trump has vowed not to release his tax returns until President Obama releases his birth certificate and Hillary Clinton releases her emails, so it appears everyone may be in for a long wait.
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Law Offices of Darrin T. Mish, P.A.: Tax Attorney