Meg Whitman says she'll post tax returns online

Friday, April 30, 2010

Meg Whitman

By Ken McLaughlin

Meg Whitman, the Republican front-runner for California governor, said Wednesday that 25 years of her tax returns are ready to be posted on the Internet.

But first, she said, presumed Democratic nominee Jerry Brown must release his tax returns from the 1980s to show that he wasn't "cashing in" from his two terms as governor or from the "contacts" of his father, former Gov. Pat Brown.

Speaking to the Mercury News editorial board, Whitman detailed for the first time why she doesn't think it's fair to release only 10 years of returns, as requested by the newspaper and the Bay Area News Group.

Whitman said her quarter-century of returns will show the arc of her life — from her late 20s, when her neurosurgeon husband made $16,000 a year as a resident at UCSF Medical Center and she earned a relatively modest salary at Bain & Company, to her final years at eBay, when she earned tens of millions.

"You will see the whole progression," said Whitman, 53, the former CEO of the online auction house. So, she argued, it's only right that California voters see the arc of Brown's financial life.

Speaking of Brown, Whitman said: "I think there's a lot of questions about how he made his money from the time he stepped down" as governor in 1983 "to when he went back into public service" in 1999, when he became mayor of Oakland.

Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Brown's campaign, called Whitman's comments "just the latest in what will apparently be an unending string of baseless and, frankly, insulting allegations."

He accused Whitman's campaign of "hiding where Meg Whitman's money comes from and hiding behind expensive TV ads rather than debating Jerry Brown."

Clifford then reiterated the Brown campaign's position: Whitman should release 10 years of returns to show good faith, and then the two campaigns can negotiate the release of the other returns.
Whitman was asked Monday whether it made sense to ask Brown for 27 years of returns while she's offering 25.

She said that's because she and her husband have been able to find only that many years of returns. "We were quite amazed actually that we had all 25 years," she added with a laugh.

Whitman's comments Wednesday marked the first time she has explicitly stated she would agree to the Mercury News request to post her tax returns on the Web.

If the two major candidates eventually post 10 or perhaps 25 years of returns on the Internet, it would be the first time candidates for a major office in the U.S. have agreed to such extraordinary transparency.
Most candidates for California governor in recent years have released a decade of returns to reporters for a limited period of time. But none has posted them on the Web.

Tax returns can give voters insight into such questions as whether candidates paid employment taxes for their in-home help or how much they gave to charity.

Many of the questions asked by the editorial board were based on suggestions from Mercury News readers. More than 100 questions were submitted.

The most common themes were how Whitman's experience as a CEO would relate to government, particularly working with an elected Legislature; her relationship with giant investment bank Goldman Sachs; and her campaign spending and tactics.

The release of the tax returns has become a hotter issue as Brown supporters have tried to portray Whitman as a greedy executive with links to Goldman Sachs, now under fire on Capitol Hill for aggressively marketing mortgage investments as the housing market was starting to go into the toilet.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Whitman for the first time said she regretted taking part in a now-banned practice called "spinning," which allowed top executives to buy shares of hot IPOs — initial public offerings — at bargain-basement prices, then immediately sell the shares when the stocks became available to the public.

Before spinning was outlawed in 2003, congressional investigators and business ethicists had called the practice corrupt. They said investment banks were rewarding top executives with lucrative IPO stock because they wanted future business from companies like eBay.

Whitman, a onetime Goldman Sachs board member, told the editorial board that, in retrospect, "I wish I hadn't done that." At the time, though, "it didn't actually occur to me" that there was any conflict of interest.
Whitman contended that she felt she was getting the favored shares simply because she and her husband had a private wealth-management account, designed for well-heeled clients, at Goldman.

"I didn't sit there saying, 'Is this the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do?' and then say, 'OK I'm going to choose to do the wrong thing.' "

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