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Do candidates outside the US release tax returns?
August 18, 2012 8:05 AM   Subscribe

Do presidential/prime minister candidates in countries other than the United States release tax returns?

This seems like a straightforward question, but I can't seem to find it on the internet. I know very little about how citizens in countries besides the US pay taxes, but presumably there is some documentation like the US has that could theoretically be released. This Telegraph article seems to imply that in the UK, it is not generally done (and certainly not the 5-10 year lookback that is being asked for by some in the US), although it might be in the future. What about in other large democracies? I'm mostly interested in major countries like UK, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, etc., but the traditions (or laws) in other democracies might be interesting as well.
posted by dsfan to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I don't really know about any other countries, but it wasn't done in the US until Nixon (Nixon's tax scandal is actually where his "I am not a crook" comes from, not the later Watergate stuff)
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:27 AM on August 18, 2012


No, there's no tradition of releasing tax returns in England. Indeed, there's not really a strong tradition of "tax returns", as the majority of the population doesn't complete one in any given year.
posted by Jehan at 8:38 AM on August 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


In some countries it's a moot point because all tax returns are public record. This is the case in Sweden, Norway, and Finland, for example.
posted by jedicus at 8:38 AM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sweden, Norway and Finland treat tax records as public information, so anyone can look up political candidates's (or their neighbours) tax returns. (Sweden releases 'tax calendars', Norway has tax lists. I believe they can be easily searched online now, but previously you would have to fill in forms/visit an office)

The UK doesn't force the release of tax records but in 2009 an MP (David Drew) did table amendments to the Parliamentary Standards Bill (search page for David Drew, I can't link directly to the new clauses) about a Annual Financial Disclosure Statements for MPs - it didn't make it into the bill when it became an Act though.
posted by halcyonday at 8:45 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Cameron has said that he may do so, which is a first; this Bloomberg piece sums up the history of tax disclosure in the UK.

In some countries it's a moot point because all tax returns are public record.

Though as Jehan says, in the UK there isn't the same annual nationwide requirement: I suspect that a majority of the British population doesn't even know what a personal income tax filing looks like, which is perhaps why there's not the same scrutiny. Instead, the focus has been on expenses claims (duck island!) and perceived conflicts of interest based upon entries in the Register of Members' Interests, which in turn led to the call for greater disclosure.

As a kind of gloss: while European politics does have a few squillionaires with interesting tax arrangements (Berlusconi being the most obvious example) most rank-and-file politicians, even government ministers, aren't that wealthy; given the limitations on election financing and the role of central parties in funding campaigns, candidates don't have to draw upon personal (or borrowed) wealth just to be viable.
posted by holgate at 9:24 AM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


New Zealand has no tradition of disclosure of tax returns, but there is monitoring of expenses and interests, as holgate describes for the UK. (The relatively low wealth of most candidates comes into play here too - the current Prime Minister was high up at Merrill Lynch before entering politics, but his predecessors were a university lecturer, a teacher and a farmer before they did).
posted by Infinite Jest at 10:37 AM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great answers above. Also, don't forget that the UK doesn't elect a Prime Minister. No one, other than the electorate of the PM's constituency vote for him, as a member of parliament. He is elected to the office of Prime Minister by his party. His US equivalent, electorally speaking, is really the Leader of the House.
posted by NailsTheCat at 11:05 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


In Canada, tax returns aren't demanded because we're generally not that concerned with the personal/private lives of our politicians, unless they (a) either decide to make it part of the public record (i.e. We believe Prime Minister Harper is a weirdo parent because he shook his 7 year olds hand when dropping him at school during an official photo op; otherwise we probably wouldn't even be aware of his kids at all) or (b) if they do something particularly egregious.

This is sort of part and parcel of the parliamentary system vs the republican system. As prime minister, Harper is simply the leader of his party's parliamentary caucus, and most of the focus is on the party and its policies, with Harper as an individual as sort of a side issue. On the other hand, the republican system elects a president who, while affiliated with a party, is running as an individual, and as a result he/she as a person is examined more closely, and things like tax returns get examined because its a way to understand the candidate as an individual.

I think if people demanded to see the prime ministers tax returns that both the official and popular response would be eye rolling of the "this isn't america, pipe down over there" type.
posted by Kololo at 11:51 AM on August 18, 2012


Great answers above. Also, don't forget that the UK doesn't elect a Prime Minister. No one, other than the electorate of the PM's constituency vote for him, as a member of parliament. He is elected to the office of Prime Minister by his party. His US equivalent, electorally speaking, is really the Leader of the House.
Not really. The Prime Minister is still the leader of the executive, even if such an executive sits within Parliament rather than outside of it, and so equal to the President. Moreover, even though Prime Ministers are elected as individual members of Parliament, for many decades all major political parties have gone into general elections with a clear and unambiguous leader who is intended to become Prime Minister. No voter doubts that if they elect a candidate from a given party, they are also, at length, electing a given person to become Prime Minister.

How much a vote for a local candidate is a vote for a party and potential Prime Minister is up for debate, but not the fact that voters are aware of who the potential Prime Minister is. Personal revelations of income, assets, and various aspects of their history could still be greatly relevant, were they to be known. For example, personal antipathy toward Tony Blair regarding his alleged war crimes is generally held to have caused a drop in the Labour vote in 2005, despite ongoing support for the party's overall policies. Moreover, the trend toward "charismatic" leadership in UK elections to mirror the Presidential elections in the US has likely grown over the last few elections, such as seen in the leadership debates of 2010.
posted by Jehan at 11:53 AM on August 18, 2012


Oh, and to add another point: in Canada, as in the UK, our politicians tend to come from middle class or upper middle class backgrounds (i.e.. lawyers, career bureaucrats, small-to-medium size business owners), and their tax returns aren't really going to be relevant or interesting.
posted by Kololo at 11:54 AM on August 18, 2012


Not really. The Prime Minister is still the leader of the executive, even if such an executive sits within Parliament rather than outside of it, and so equal to the President.

To be clear, I wasn't saying that his political role was equivalent to the Leaders of the House. Absolutely, he's the equivalent to the US president (and presidents in other strong presidential systems such as France). And I also agree that UK politics has always had an element of personality politics, at least as far back as Thatch'. I just don't think that how they are elected can be considered equivalent to a presidential race.

It's just not as personally intense as in the US in which the presidential candidates come under incredible amounts of scrutiny. Note also that a strong individual MP can swing his voters to his banner, even if his constituents don't like the party leader, even though they cannot vote separately for the leader. (Which of course they can and do in US.)

I acknowledge though that the UK debates were perhaps an attempt to focus more on the parties' leadership--but it's still very different from the US in my view. Back to the OP's question: I think this issue is one of the factors, but another key factor as others have mentioned is that a tax return is very much a US phenomenon. Many people don't need to complete them at all in the UK.

Along similar lines though, I think it's also significant that all the parties go into an election with a leader already in place, in most cases in that position for years. So people know what they're getting already. There's no rush to dig dirt and swiftboat prospective PMs. The worse Cameron probably got was some attention to his Bullington Club days.
posted by NailsTheCat at 1:30 PM on August 18, 2012


I've never heard of it being done in Australian politics, but much like the UK and New Zealand systems it's usually more middle class and upper class than the truly ZOMG I have a private yacht type wealthy running for office. I think this is because a lot of our campaign financing rules are different so it's easier for non wealthy people to run. A lot of the really good tax dodges seem to be the domain of the very wealthy so it might just be it's less of an issue.
posted by wwax at 4:10 PM on August 18, 2012


I think if people demanded to see the prime ministers tax returns that both the official and popular response would be eye rolling of the "this isn't america, pipe down over there" type.

It might also be because other tax systems are much less malleable than the US one- that if someone has a good idea of what the person has earned, they have a good idea of what they paid in taxes.
posted by gjc at 9:18 AM on August 19, 2012


Jehan: Indeed, there's not really a strong tradition of "tax returns", as the majority of the population doesn't complete one in any given year.

That's interesting. How are personal taxes calculated then? Is it all done on the employer's side of things?
posted by dhens at 1:23 PM on August 19, 2012


How are personal taxes calculated then?

Tax codes and PAYE. There's no mortgage interest deduction, no charitable deduction (handled by HMRC through Gift Aid) and credits are computed centrally, so if you have a standard wage/salaried job, especially if it's under the 40% band, you just need to make sure your tax code is correct.

Ken Livingstone got a few raised eyebrows for the limited company he and his wife use for media work, given his political leanings, but that's more a reflection on how most people in the UK don't give much thought to how self-employed/freelance tax planning works; he wasn't doing a Jimmy Carr.
posted by holgate at 3:34 PM on August 19, 2012


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