Sen. Whitehouse will make tax returns public for the first time

Langevin, Kilmartin, Mattiello, Ruggerio are top RI elected officials who won't

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Reversing his longstanding policy, Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will make his tax returns public this year, before facing voters in 2018 and amid increasingly intense scrutiny of what politicians pay.

Meaghan McCabe, a spokeswoman for Whitehouse, confirmed the decision ahead of tax day. Whitehouse has already faced criticism from one of his possible 2018 Republican opponents, Coventry state Rep. Bobby Nardolillo, for refusing to release his returns in the past – though his office did not cite that as a reason.

“Senator Whitehouse and Dr. Whitehouse have in the past kept their personal tax return private to protect the privacy of their children, who are now of majority age,” McCabe said. Dr. Whitehouse is the senator’s wife, Sandra, who holds a Ph.D. in marine biology; the youngest of their two children turned 23 last year.

As he has in the past, Whitehouse has asked for an extension from the IRS to file his return and will not be doing so until later in the year, when a summary will be released and they will be made available to reporters for review, she said.

However, Nardolillo said he was not satisfied with Whitehouse’s announcement, saying he wants to see all of the senator’s tax returns since he was first elected to the Senate in 2006.

By releasing his tax return, Whitehouse will no longer have a different policy on the matter than his senior Democratic colleague, Jack Reed, who has been doing so for years. Spokesmen confirmed Reed plans to make his return public again this year, as does Democratic Congressman David Cicilline.

The one outlier in Rhode Island’s four-man congressional delegation is now Congressman Jim Langevin, who will continue to keep his return under wraps this year, spokeswoman Anita Baffoni said. That has been his policy since he first ran for Congress 17 years ago.

“Congressman Langevin declines to release his tax return in order to keep the details of his medical expenses and personal care private,” Baffoni said. “He will of course be filing his annual financial disclosures as is required of all members of Congress every year,” she added.

The question of whether voters should see a politician’s tax returns has been much in the news over the past year and a half after Republican President Donald Trump refused to release his during his campaign for the White House, breaking with a longstanding precedent that dates back to the Nixon era.

Whitehouse himself criticized Trump for refusing to release his tax returns during a recent interview with Salon about the president’s ties to Russia, saying: “A guy who’s hiding his tax returns is not somebody who’s committed to explaining what those international connections are.”

At the state level, Gov. Gina Raimondo also plans to release her tax return again this year, as do Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, their offices said. All are Democrats.

Democratic Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, however, will continue to keep his return private, spokeswoman Amy Kempe said.

“Attorney General Kilmartin believes the Ethics Commission financial disclosure form he files each year provides sufficient level of disclosure,” Kempe said. “Further, having been a victim of identity theft, specifically having someone else file taxes in his name, the attorney general believes that public release of personal information does not help prevent further identity theft.”

The two Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, are taking the same position as Kilmartin.

“The speaker will not be releasing his tax returns,” Mattiello spokesman Larry Berman said. “He complies with all the requirements of his annual Financial Disclosure Statement which is due to the Ethics Commission on April 28.”

Similarly, Ruggerio spokesman Greg Pare said: “The Senate president will not be releasing his tax returns. He will complete the Ethics Commission’s annual Financial Disclosure Statement.”

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has filed for an extension but will release a summary of his tax returns once he completes them, his spokeswoman said.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram