With Obama on the offensive, the Democratic campaigns trade attacks

The campaigns for the two Democratic candidates exchanged shots Wednesday.

Topics: 2008 Elections, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama,

After having a rough night on Tuesday, Barack Obama‘s campaign is going negative against Hillary Clinton.

In an article Wednesday, the Associated Press’ Ron Fournier wrote that “a senior Obama adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama’s team will respond to Tuesday’s results by going negative on Clinton — raising questions about her tax records and the source of donations to the Clinton presidential library, among skeletons in the Clintons’ past.” The candidate himself appeared to confirm this. “[Clinton]‘s made the argument that she’s thoroughly vetted, in contrast to me,” Obama said. “I think it’s important to examine that argument because if the suggestion is somehow that on issues of ethics or disclosure or transparency that she’s going to have a better record than I have and will be better able to withstand Republican attacks, I think that’s an issue that should be tested.”

As promised, the Obama camp wasted little time on Wednesday before going after Clinton on her tax returns. Actually, the campaign has made these attacks before, prompting the Clinton camp to change its stance on the issue. Previously, Clinton had said she would not release her returns until she became the Democratic nominee. Now, though, the campaign says that the returns will be released around tax time on April 15, presumably before the Pennsylvania primary. But the Obama camp’s criticisms were harsher and more explicit than they’ve been before. In a memo, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe listed a number of reasons why it’s important for the returns to be disclosed now, and wrote, “In the face of her unwillingness to release her tax returns, Hillary Clinton has made the false case in this campaign that she is more electable because she has been fully vetted. When it comes to her personal finances, Senator Clinton’s refusal to release her taxes returns denies the media and the American people the opportunity to even begin that process. Though her campaign has tried to kick the issue down the road, Democratic voters deserve to know, right now, why it is she is hiding the information in her tax returns from last year.”



The Clinton campaign didn’t pull any punches in responding. In a statement, Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson changed the subject to Tony Rezko, a Chicago businessman and one-time prominent Obama supporter whose federal trial is now under way.

Both Plouffe’s memo and Wolfson’s statement are available in full after the jump.

Plouffe’s memo:

The Clinton campaign today maintained that “the vetting of Barack Obama has just begun.” The truth is, more than a year into this campaign, some very simple vetting of Hillary Clinton has yet to start.

In the face of her unwillingness to release her tax returns, Hillary Clinton has made the false case in this campaign that she is more electable because she has been fully vetted. When it comes to her personal finances, Senator Clinton’s refusal to release her taxes returns denies the media and the American people the opportunity to even begin that process. Though her campaign has tried to kick the issue down the road, Democratic voters deserve to know, right now, why it is she is hiding the information in her tax returns from last year.

The Clinton campaign has said that they have released copious amounts of financial information but there are many questions about their private dealings that could be answered in their tax returns but not in the information that is currently available. For example, here are eight pieces of information that could be learned from her tax returns, the accompanying schedules, and attachments:

  • Effective tax rate — including whether or not any tax shelters were used to reduce it
  • Amount of income for spouses by source
  • Amount of stock gains and losses
  • Gross income for the couple
  • Amount earned from stock dividends
  • Amount of household employment taxes paid
  • Personal exemptions taken
  • Charitable contributions made

Senator Clinton has also claimed that she is too “busy” to release her tax returns. Given the fact she is able to loan her campaign $5 million, you would think the Clintons would be able to hire an accountant. The reality is that she wants to keep this information hidden from voters. The people of Wyoming, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and the rest of the country should wonder why.

The Clintons’ record on releasing tax returns:

FEBRUARY 2008: Clinton Reiterated That She Would Not Release Her Tax Records Until She Is The Nominee And Not Before Mid-April. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton says she won’t release her tax returns until she has the Democratic presidential nomination in hand, and not before tax filing time comes in mid-April. “I will release my tax returns,” Clinton said during the debate. “I have consistently said I will do that once I become the nominee, or even earlier.” Pressed about the timing of releasing her tax returns, campaign aides were more reticent Wednesday, indicating that Clinton would not release the sensitive financial data during a hotly contested primary, but only at tax filing time. [AP, 2/27/08]

JUNE 2007: Clinton Does Not Plan to Release Her Tax Returns Until Next Year. According to the Washington Post, Clinton said through a spokesman that, “like past presidential candidates,” she will “release tax information in the election year.” [Washington Post, 6/19/07]

APRIL 12, 1996: Clinton Released His Tax Returns. President Clinton and his wife earned $316,074 in 1995, including the president’s $200,000 salary, according to tax returns released Friday by the White House. The public release of the tax returns, three days before the April 15 filing deadline, shows that Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton are owed a refund of $5,656 on the $81,093 they paid in taxes, and will apply that refund to their 1996 income taxes. [UPI, 4/12/96]

April 15, 1992: Bill Clinton Made His Tax Returns Public. APRIL 15, 1992: Bill Clinton made his tax returns made public. [Los Angeles Times, 4/16/93]

Bill Clinton Released His Tax Returns In 1992 But Refused To Release Their Tax Returns From Before 1980. During the 1992 campaign, the Clintons claimed to be coming clean by releasing their tax returns from 1980 forward. But they steadfastly refused to release their returns for prior years, and only later did we learn that 1978 and 1979 were the tax years when Mrs. Clinton reported her 10,000 percent cattle-futures trading profit. [WSJ, 2/22/08]

Wolfson’s statement:

Faced with many legitimate questions about Senator Obama’s long-time relationship with indicted political fixer Tony Rezko, the Obama campaign has chosen to lash out at Senator Clinton.

Here are the facts:

Over 20 years of the Clintons’ tax returns are in the public domain.

Their tax returns since they left the White House will be made available on or around April 15.

This information will be in addition to 15 years of uninterrupted public financial disclosure reports.

Instead of making false attacks, we urge Senator Obama to release all relevant financial and other information related to indicted political fixer Tony Rezko.

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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