Why did Clinton wait to release her tax return?

Examining the possible reasons Hillary Clinton's campaign may have wanted little attention paid to her family's finances.

By Alex Koppelman

Published April 5, 2008 12:16AM (EDT)

On Friday afternoon, Hillary Clinton finally released her and her husband's 2007 tax return. (You can view it here -- if you find anything interesting, feel free to let me know by e-mail, alex@salon.com.) And that prompts some inevitable questions: What took her campaign so long? Why allow yourself to be dogged by weeks of attacks from Barack Obama's campaign instead of just releasing the returns? Why take the traditional route of someone with bad news to deliver and release the return on Friday afternoon? What could they have to hide?

The short answer is that, for the moment, we don't really know. That's the point of releasing the information the way the Clinton campaign did. If you're putting out a ton of information on a Friday afternoon, it's because you know that way reporters won't have a chance to filter out the chaff, and you hope that the story dies over the weekend and isn't picked up the following week. In this case, since the Clinton campaign had promised to release the return around April 15, and did it slightly earlier, I have to wonder if they saw an opportune moment in this particular weekend, as Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, will be testifying before Congress next week. The Clinton camp is probably hoping that some media attention will shift to Iraq and away from the campaign, and it's probably right.

As of this posting, there has been some information gleaned already, mostly predictable and small if potentially damaging details. There is, for example, information about just how much money Bill Clinton has earned (at least $12 million and possibly as much as $15 million) in a partnership with close friend and billionaire Ron Burkle, who is practically a human minefield for the campaign. And there are some other connections -- both to sources of the Clintons' money and to managers of it -- that could prove embarrassing.

There may well be a big bombshell waiting in the return for some enterprising person to find. If there isn't, then here's my theory to explain the campaign's foot-dragging: Simply put, since they left the White House, the Clintons have made a lot of money. Between 2000 and 2007, they grossed a combined $109 million. And though they paid almost $34 million of that to Uncle Sam, and donated an additional $10 million to charity, that still leaves them with a hefty chunk of change. This is, potentially, a political problem. Before he was elected president, and while he remained in the White House, Bill Clinton could tell voters he felt their pain. That particular line suddenly is a whole lot less believable. And this year, Hillary Clinton has relied on the support of voters who are typically lower on the socioeconomic scale than Obama supporters are. Her campaign has to be at least a little worried that the revelation of the Clintons' newfound wealth may hurt them among this key group.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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