The American people think that transparency is a good thing when it comes to politicians. So do the politicians -- when it applies to someone else.
Democrats are having a field day beating up on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for not releasing more of his past tax returns. But when our Washington bureau asked senators and congressmen to produce their tax rxeturns, just 17 out of 535 members did. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill was one of just three senators who complied.
The vast majority, including Illinois Republicans Rep. John Shimkus and Sen. Mark Kirk, didn't explain why not. Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin said he'd release his then never did.
Democrat Rep. Jerry Costello, of Belleville, said he would release his if he were running for office rather than retiring.
Well, if tax returns are important information to have about a politician who wants to hold office, they are even more important to have when the politician is in office. They set tax policy for all Americans, and people deserve to know how the tax code helps or hurts them. It might influence their votes.
Some lawmakers pointed out that they file the financial disclosures that are required by law. But that gives just a glimpse of their personal finances, not the full picture that tax returns provide.
We'd say that there ought to be a law that congressmen and senators make their tax returns routinely available for public inspection. But given lawmakers refusal to comply voluntarily, what's the point?