Slouching toward activism, step #2

February 17, 2017

Dear Representative Jayapal and Senators Cantwell and Murray:

Thank you for accepting our previous letter, which concerned the confirmation hearings of Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, and Scott Pruitt. We appreciate your responses. It is regrettable that voting on DeVos and Pruitt basically broke along party lines, and that Carson is likely to be confirmed in a similar manner.

Given the deep partisan divide, we wonder whether the issue of Donald Trump’s tax returns can be addressed in a way that does not simply pit Democrats against Republicans (especially since that is currently a losing battle for Democrats).

As you know, in all presidential elections since the 1970s, candidates of both parties have voluntarily shared their tax returns. Donald Trump’s choice not to follow this precedent raises important questions about his potential conflicts of interest, e.g., in interacting with foreign countries such as Russia. However, it seems clear that Trump will not release his tax returns unless forced by law to do so. It also seems clear that Rep. Bill Pascrell’s recent amendment to mandate the release of Trump’s returns, while admirable in our eyes, has hit a dead end in the House Ways and Means Committee.

We wonder whether Pascrell’s proposal was rejected by every Republican member of the Ways and Means Committee in part because it was specific to Trump. Perhaps there is hope for a more general, less partisan-sounding version of this idea, requiring all sitting presidents and future presidential candidates to release their tax returns? Perhaps such a bill could (accurately) be marketed as a general effort to improve transparency in government, rather than as a partisan attack on Trump, and thus could win some support from independent-thinking Republicans.

We are unsure how realistic this scenario might be, but we wanted to encourage you to devote any available resources to this kind of common-sense, nonpartisan solution to the tax return debacle.

Gregory J. Crowther & Leila R. Zelnick
[street address redacted]
Seattle WA 98103


  1. I am so impressed with your efforts to find some middle ground.

  2. What a wonderful letter! Do you mind if I borrow parts of it to send to my own legislators? In particular, Senator Lankford is an enthusiastic advocate for transparency.

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