Two candidates for governor file their tax returns. Betsy Johnson refuses. – Willamette week | Vette Leader

Two of the three candidates running for governor of Oregon this year have filed their tax returns wws please.

The third, former state senator Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), who is running independently, declined.

“Betsy has always completed the required financial disclosure forms to the Legislature and will continue to do so as governor,” said Johnson’s campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Sitton. “That is the sum total of the public interest. Betsy believes that whether you vote for governor or run for governor, you still have a constitutional right to privacy that most people cherish.”

With that decision, Johnson deviated from recent norms in Oregon and across the country.

For example, in 2018 incumbent Governor Kate Brown and Republican challenger Knute Buehler both shared their tax returns with the press, and in 2014 incumbent Governor John Kitzhaber and Republican candidate Dennis Richardson shared their tax returns.

Paul Gronke, a professor of political science at Reed College, says this transparency has been the standard for at least 50 years.

“It’s certainly been a presidential tradition since Nixon, out of a desire for transparency to avoid perceived conflicts of interest and really just to reassure the public,” Gronke says.

There was, of course, one major exception: candidate and then-President Donald Trump refused to file his tax returns in 2016 and again in 2020. Gronke says the refusal may have emboldened candidates in the governor’s race in Virginia last year and Michigan this year.

In Oregon, Democratic nominee for governor, former House Speaker Tina Kotek, and Republican nominee, former House Minority Chair Christine Drazan, agreed to split the last three years of their tax returns.

Kotek delivered state and federal returns; Drazan only provided their federal reports.

Earnings show that Kotek and her wife, Aimee Kotek Wilson, a social worker, together have earned an average gross income of $107,037 per year for the past three years. Her income has remained stable during this time, falling slightly last year when Kotek resigned her position as spokeswoman to run for governor.

Drazan, like Kotek, served as lawmaker for the three years she provided returnees. Her husband, Dan Drazan, is a partner at Dunn Carney, a mid-sized Portland law firm. Their joint gross income was significantly higher, averaging $375,325 per year over the past three years. However, due to the disastrous economy of 2020, the Drazans’ income varied far more than Kotek and Wilson’s, falling from $428,109 in 2019 to $306,622 in 2020.

Dick Solomon, a chartered accountant who has served on the Oregon Investment Council and Oregon Lottery Commission, reviewed the candidates’ returns wws please.

“None of the returns are unusual or surprising,” says Solomon. “Dan Drazan makes good money as a partner in a law firm, and the return shows they’re saving a lot for retirement.”

The Drazans didn’t provide detailed deductions on their tax returns, but Solomon says the amount they requested was normal.

“If I had worked for the IRS or the Oregon Department of Revenue, there is nothing in those statements that would cause me to review them,” he adds.

According to Solomon, one of the benefits of candidates disclosing their tax returns is that voters can see where a candidate’s income came from.

“I think the public has a right to know that the senator is from West Virginia [Joe Manchin] has significant investments in coal, for example,” says Solomon. “The decisions he might make in office could affect his fortune.”

Solomon notes that neither the Drazans nor Kotek and Wilson have reported any significant investment income and rely almost entirely on their paychecks.

Not so for Johnson, who comes from a wealthy logging family in central Oregon.

Johnson, like Kotek and Drazan, filed the declaration of economic interest in 2021, which many officials require the state approves the signatures she needs to vote.)

Johnson’s 2021 disclosure form shows her husband, John Helm, has interests in five companies; that the couple owns seven properties in addition to their primary residence; and that it has trusts and a sizable portfolio of blue-chip stocks.

Johnson reported that 31 of those stocks each generated at least $1,000 in dividend income in 2021.

Many of their holdings have significant legislative interests in Oregon. Three of them – Boeing, Global Partners (an oil transport company) and Weyerhaeuser – have extensive operations in the state. Global, which has an oil terminal in Johnson’s former Senate district, has given $160,000 to her campaign.

Without Johnson’s tax returns, it’s impossible to know how much income she made from stocks in these three companies or any other stock she owns.

(Kotek’s SEI has no information other than her tax returns. Drazans shows that she and her husband own a beach house in Lincoln County, but nothing else.)

“Democracy depends on an informed electorate, which makes transparency crucial,” says Kate Titus of Common Cause Oregon, a monitoring group. “Tax filing candidates help uncover potential conflicts of interest and red flags.”

But Titus says the trend of candidates refusing to share their tax returns sets a bad precedent: “Obviously this should no longer be voluntary because that only allows the scoffers to evade that public trust.”

Gronke, who examines voting patterns and trust in government and the electoral process, agrees.

“It’s disappointing to hear that Betsy Johnson isn’t ready to publicize her returns,” he says. “It’s not a requirement, but most candidates have done it.”

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