Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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PolitiFact: Did Richard Nixon release tax returns while running for president?

The statement

"Even Richard Nixon released his tax returns to the public when he was running for president."

Tim Kaine, Democratic vice presidential nominee, Aug. 13 in a speech

The ruling

We weren't aware that Nixon released his tax returns while he was on the campaign trail. So we asked the Hillary Clinton campaign where Kaine got the information for that statement.

Sarah Peck, the Virginia director of communications for the Clinton campaign, pointed us to news articles and other sources about Nixon's tax disclosures.

We also looked at the website for the Presidential Tax History Project, which is run by Tax Analysts, a Falls Church, Va.,-based nonprofit that specializes in tax issues. That group has compiled tax returns online for past presidents and major-party presidential nominees.

On the group's website, you'll find copies of Nixon's tax returns from 1969 through 1972.

But there's a catch. Those returns were not released while Nixon was running for president. They were released in December 1973, a year after he was re-elected.

At the time, the 37th president was embroiled in the Watergate scandal, and questions were being raised about whether something also was amiss with his tax filings.

Reports had surfaced that Nixon had been paying a small amount of federal tax for several years, a function of having secured a large deduction for donating his vice presidential papers to the National Archives, said Joseph J. Thorndike, a historian at Tax Analysts.

To quell lingering concerns, Nixon released tax returns to the public as well as to the Joint Committee on Taxation despite the fact that the president was under an IRS audit at the time, Thorndike told us.

So Nixon did indeed release his full tax returns as president. Did he ever do that while he was running for that office? Nixon ran for president three times, so let's go back a bit further in history.

Peck pointed us to a 1984 story in the New York Times, which noted that in his successful 1968 campaign for the presidency, Nixon released a brief summary of his financial affairs.

In the 1968 nominating contest, Nixon faced a field of GOP candidates that included Michigan Gov. George Romney.

Romney released a dozen years of his tax returns to Look magazine, according to a Bloomberg column written by Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia.

"Look (magazine) then went to Nixon, who proved distinctly less forthcoming. He permitted a writer to inspect photocopies of his returns, but only three years' worth," Mihm wrote.

The history professor added that the issue didn't come up during the general election campaign, because Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey also refused to release his tax returns.

Thorndike told us that Nixon's limited disclosure wouldn't really count as the candidate releasing his tax returns to the public. A reporter was able to look at them but wasn't allowed to keep a copy of them, Thorndike noted.

"In my book, that would not count as releasing your tax returns, because the whole crowd source thing is a big part of it," Thorndike said.

We couldn't find any record of Nixon releasing tax returns during his two other runs for the presidency — in 1960, against John F. Kennedy, or in his 1972 re-election bid against George McGovern.

While Kaine's statement has an element of truth, it ignores facts that would create a different impression. We rate his statement Mostly False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

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Published: 07/18/18