Dino Rossi refuses to release his federal tax returns; the governor hasn't decided

We asked for them, they refused for now. Here's why that information could be helpful as voters evaluate the GOP challenger and incumbent Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire.
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We asked for them, they refused for now. Here's why that information could be helpful as voters evaluate the GOP challenger and incumbent Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Last week, I e-mailed the campaigns for Washington's leading gubernatorial candidates, Gov. Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi. I asked for their tax returns for the past four years. I said I wanted them by Wednesday, July 2.

Why would a reporter ask for IRS returns? I can think of any number of reasons. To better understand a candidate's net worth. To see how much a candidate contributes to charity. To determine if there are potential conflicts of interest between a candidate's financial dealings and the office that person is seeking.

Certainly there is a tradition in presidential politics of candidates releasing their income taxes — or at least being asked to.

So what happened to my request? Rossi's campaign flat out denied it. Spokesperson Jill Strait wrote in an e-mail: "Dino has already fully complied with all financial disclosures that are required by the Public Disclosure Commission and therefore will not release any more personal financial information."

Gregoire's communications director, Debra Carnes, said I hadn't given them enough time to address the issue with the governor. "The Governor and her husband are considering it and we should be able to get back to you on Monday," says Carnes.

It's worth noting that in 2004 Gregoire called on Rossi to release his tax returns. He didn't, but Carnes says Gregoire did release hers. I haven't been able to independently verify that.

So at least for now, if you — or I — want to know more about Gregoire and Rossi's financial circumstances, we have to rely on the information provided in the candidates' financial disclosure statements. These are filed with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), but they're inconveniently not online. You have to request them.

(Of course, Gregoire's salary is public information. She's paid $163,618, according to her office, which puts her among the best-paid governors in the U.S.)

The PDC's financial disclosure forms are limited. Candidates don't have to disclose actual dollar amounts. Instead, they get to pick a code — A through E — to signify a range that best describes their salary or the value of a particular asset or debt. A is $1-$3,999, E is $100,000 or more. In other words, whether a candidate makes $101,000 or $1 million in a year, he or she uses the same reporting code. You can see it's not terribly helpful.

When I asked the PDC why it doesn't have more codes or categories for reporting, a spokesperson said the commission does make periodic adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index. But she added that the commission had not contemplated going to the Legislature to update the candidate reporting requirements.

So what do the Gregoire and Rossi financial disclosure forms show? Gregoire's salary from being governor is category E ($100,000 or more). Her husband, Mike, reports retirement income in categories D ($40,000-$99,000) and B ($4,000-$19,999). The Gregoires appear to owe $40,000-$99,000 on their private home in Olympia. Gregoire has a state retirement account worth more than $100,000 and several other retirement investments of lesser value.

The most interesting part of Gregoire's financial disclosure report is the gifts she's received. In February 2007, Jack Field, lobbyist for the Washington Cattleman's Association, gave the governor a customized cowboy hat worth $350. In December of that year, Mike Humes of K2 Sports gave the Governor a pair of K2 "Tough Luv" skis worth $949. The disclosure form does not reveal whether the governor has worn the hat or carved turns on the skis.

After a career in state government, Gregoire's financial holdings are, not surprisingly, rather ho-hum. Rossi, however, as a real estate investor, is a potentially more interesting case study.

He reports three sources of income over the $75,000 level (Rossi used an old form where E is $75,000 or more. Gregoire used the new form where E is $100,000 or more.) Those sources are Forward Books (the company that published Rossi's self-titled book), rental income from an apartment building, and a salary from the Forward Washington Foundation (a position Rossi has since resigned). Rossi also reports $30,000-$74,999 in rental income from a medical office building.

Rossi's assets include a state retirement fund, part ownership in the Baseball Club of Everett, and other stock holdings, including $30,000-$74,999 worth of shares of Next IT, a Spokane high-tech firm.

As you can see, these financial disclosure forms provide a window into the candidates' finances, but that's about it. It's unclear, for instance, if Rossi is making a few hundred thousand dollars or millions of dollars off of his book and his real estate investments.

It's a question income tax returns would quickly answer.

So what do you think? Should Washington's gubernatorial candidates release their income tax information? Post your comments below.


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