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Sanders releases 10 years of tax returns as his campaign attacks a Dem-leaning think tank

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4/16/2019 By Juana Summers and Stephen Braun / Associated Press
Bernie Sanders wearing a suit and tie © Provided by PG Publishing Co., Inc.

WASHINGTON — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday released 10 years of his long-anticipated tax returns as he campaigns for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The returns provide a more detailed look at Mr. Sanders’ finances than when he ran for president in 2016. The release also confirms that Mr. Sanders’ income crossed the $1 million threshold in 2016 and 2017, though he reported less earnings in his most recent return.

His 2018 return reveals that he and his wife, Jane, earned more than $550,000, including $133,000 in income from his Senate salary and $391,000 in sales of his book, “Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In.” Mr. Sanders’ campaign said in a news release that he paid 26% effective tax rate in 2018.

At the same time, Sanders campaign advisers escalated their attacks on a major Democratic-leaning think tank Monday, accusing the group of using corporate donations to mount a “consistent effort to belittle or demean” the independent Vermont senator while seeking to “kneecap” populist support for policies such as Medicare-for-all.

Mr. Sanders has been upset about a video by ThinkProgress, a project of an independent affiliated organization, called Center for American Progress Action, or CAP Action. The video described how Mr. Sanders had reduced his use of the term “millionaires” to describe the nation’s wealthy after he personally earned more than $1 million in 2017, largely from book sales.

During his first presidential bid, Mr. Sanders released just one year of his tax returns despite primary rival Hillary Clinton pushing him to follow her lead and release multiple years of tax information. He declined to do so, disclosing only his tax return for 2014. Tax transparency has been in the spotlight as now-President Donald Trump bucks decades of presidential tradition by declining to show voters his tax filings and House Democrats seek to force him to turn them over.

During a Fox News Channel town hall on Monday, Mr. Sanders said that he’d increased his income by publishing a book — he’s written two with campaign themes — and that he wouldn’t apologize for that. He also challenged Mr. Trump to release his tax returns.

“I guess the president watches your network a little bit, right?” Mr. Sanders said to the moderators. “Hey, President Trump. My wife and I just released 10 years. Please do the same.”

The filings show that Mr. Sanders, who throughout his career has called for an economy and government that works for everyone and not just the 1 percent, is among the top 1 percent of earners in the U.S. According to the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. families in the U.S. earning $421,926 or more a year are part of this group.

In a statement accompanying the release, Mr. Sanders said that the returns show that his family has been “fortunate,” something he is grateful for after growing up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck.

“I consider paying more in taxes as my income rose to be both an obligation and an investment in our country. I will continue to fight to make our tax system more progressive so that our country has the resources to guarantee the American Dream to all people,” Mr. Sanders added.

Mr. Sanders, 77, has also listed Social Security payments for each year of the decade of tax returns he made available Monday. By 2018, his wife, 69, was also taking Social Security, providing the couple with nearly $52,000 for the year.

Mr. Sanders’ status as a millionaire, which he acknowledged last week, was cemented in his 2017 statement. That year, Mr. Sanders disclosed $1.31 million income, combined from his Senate salary and $961,000 in book royalties and sales. His higher income in two of the three most recent years could potentially prompt questions from voters about his frequent criticisms of the influence that millionaires and billionaires have over the political process.

Mr. Sanders and his wife disclosed $36,300 in charitable contributions in 2017, but their return does not detail each individual contribution. That same year, the couple announced publicly that they had donated $25,000 as a grant to launch the Sanders Institute, a nonprofit educational organization aligned with the senator’s political and ideological interests.

Jane Sanders was a co-founder of the nonprofit, along with her son, David Driscoll, who became the institute’s executive director. Mr. Sanders and his wife put the institute on hiatus last month amid criticism that the nonprofit blurred lines between family, fundraising and campaigning. Ms. Sanders said the nonprofit would cease operations beginning in May “so there could not even be an appearance of impropriety.”

Meanwhile, the Sanders campaign’s onslaught comes as the Vermont senator sits atop national 2020 polls of declared presidential candidates, was the clearest signal yet that he plans to reprise his role as a disruptive insurgent who will run against established Democratic Party institutions even as he seeks the party’s nomination.

“I think this time around he wanted to make sure that people understood that he wasn’t just going to be a punching bag,” said Mr. Sanders’ campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, in an interview at the Mohegan Sun Pocono, where Mr. Sanders addressed members of a nurses union. “He’s comfortable having the fight within the party or outside the party, in general. That’s Bernie Sanders.”

In a sign of Mr. Sanders’ newfound power, the targeted think tank, Center for American Progress, or CAP, sought to defuse the conflict Monday afternoon with a conciliatory message.

The president of the think tank, Neera Tanden, released a statement Monday saying she had no editorial control over the publications of CAP Action or its news website ThinkProgress, but nonetheless disagreed with the tone of the video.

“The orientation of CAP is to positively engage with all political leaders about the country’s future,” Ms. Tanden said in a statement. “We believe the content of the ThinkProgress video critiquing Sen. Sanders is overly harsh and does not reflect our approach to a constructive debate of the issues.”

After the statement was issued, Mr. Shakir, who is a former editor at ThinkProgress, said he welcomed the contrition and hoped to meet soon with Ms. Tanden to further discuss their disagreements.

A number of Mr. Sanders’ rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination — including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — have released tax records to varying degrees. Ms. Gillibrand was the first candidate to release her 2018 tax returns, and her campaign released a video in which she called on other candidates to join her.

Warren, who has also already released her 2018 tax returns, made public 10 years of tax information last year. Harris released 15 years of tax returns over the weekend. Ms. Klobuchar released her 2018 tax return on Monday and said in a campaign video that she hoped Mr. Trump, who spent the day campaigning in Minnesota, would release his own taxes on his trip to the state. (He didn’t.)

The Washington Post contributed.

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