The more likely rationale, then, was that the contents of the documents were unflattering. That the president who’d in the past complained about how little Barack Obama paid in taxes had himself paid little to nothing, despite the vast wealth that formed the basis of his qualifications to run for president in 2016. He kept saying that he’d be happy to turn over his taxes — until it came to do so.
On Sunday, the New York Times released the latest in a series of examinations of Trump’s tax history, exploring his filings over the years leading to his candidacy and, then, election as president. The story in short? Trump paid far less in taxes as he was running for president and during his first year in office than most Americans, much less most wealthy Americans. In fact, it seems likely that he only paid a small amount in taxes — $750 in each of those years — so that he could say he paid something.
There are a lot of ways to contextualize the modesty of Trump’s contribution to the federal coffers. It’s less than a nickel on every dollar in federal income tax Americans paid on average in 2018, for example, and less than a third of what middle-income Americans paid in 2016. It’s far less than the first-year income taxes paid by any of his immediate predecessors, even without adjusting for inflation.
Here’s another way to look at it: The amount of tax paid by Trump in 2017 was 0.1 percent of what his companies were paid that year by the federal government, according to Post reporting. In fact, Trump’s probably given up less in federal taxes over the past 15 years than his companies have been paid by the government just since he took office.
Trump’s taxes are complicated. Walking through the Times story and a story published in 2017, we detailed the amount Trump’s paid in taxes over the past 25 years — and what he’s gotten in return.
During the 20 years before 1995, we know of about $72,000 that Trump paid in federal income taxes. In 1995, he declared a loss of nearly $1 billion, a loss which could be carried over year after year for nearly two decades to wipe out any income he’d earned as what could be thought of as a sort of government credit.
By 2005, though, with money pouring in from “The Apprentice” and licensing deals, all of that credit was gone, according to the Times. Over the next three years, he paid a bit over $70 million in income taxes.
Trump got very lucky with the timing of his renewed celebrity, though. The recession that began in 2008 led to a law allowing taxpayers to get refunds on prior years’ taxes if they’d had losses since. In 2009, he sought a refund on all of the money he’d paid in 2005 through 2007, with interest — and received it, beginning in 2010. This is now being audited; if the government finds that Trump shouldn’t have received the refund, he’ll owe about $100 million.
In the years after the recession, Trump largely avoided paying income taxes. The Times reports that he paid income tax in 2010 (apparently due to the alternative minimum tax, a fail-safe meant to keep the rich from entirely avoiding tax payments) and about $642,000 in 2015. From 2000 to 2017, Trump paid $24.3 million through the alternative minimum tax, with most of that apparently coming before his “Apprentice” windfall. (The Times states that he paid no federal income taxes at all from 2011 to 2014.)
Then there’s that $1,500 in 2016 and 2017, the most recent year for which data are available. It’s worth noting that Trump actually paid the government about $5.2 million for his estimated 2016 and 2017 bills, preliminary estimates of what he would owe before he filed. Once he filed, though, those dropped to that nominal $750 apiece — and the other $5.198 million can be used as credit for future years’ bills.
Since Trump took office, The Post — particularly our reporter David Fahrenthold — has been trying to determine how much the government has paid Trump’s various business holdings since he took office. In total, the figure tops $1.2 million, with most of that coming in the form of payments from the Secret Service and most of it — about $690,000 — recorded in 2017. (Data for more recent years are obviously incomplete; it generally takes a great deal of wrangling and legal pressure to get the government to share the information.)
In other words, in 2017, Trump paid $750 in taxes and the government spent at least $687,327 at Trump Organization properties. Throw in the $400,000 in salary Trump gave back to the government that year, and the government still paid $200,000 more to Trump’s business that year than he paid the government in the form of forgone salary or income taxes. (We’re also excluding the $4.2 million overpayment Trump made, since he’ll get that back.)
Again, the figures are murky, but it seems possible that Trump’s paid less in income taxes on net since 2005 than his businesses have been paid since 2017. We know of the $1,500 paid in 2016 and 2017. If the same nominal payments were made in 2018 and 2019, that’s $3,000 in total. Trump paid about $642,000 in taxes in 2015, thanks to the alternative minimum tax, the first payment since 2010. The amount he paid in 2010 isn’t clear, but we know that, thanks to that still-under-investigation refund which flowed to him beginning that year, he’s up nearly $3 million on the taxes paid from 2005 to 2007 (a payment of $70.1 million recouped with a refund of $72.9 million).
Trump’s attorney insists that Trump’s paid a lot of money in “personal taxes” — a term presumably including things like property and sales taxes, which is certainly true. The creativity Trump’s team apparently employs with his income taxes, though, is apparently matched in its assessment of his property taxes. He’s also contributed $1.6 million in total by forgoing his salary.
But again, that’s not much more than the incomplete picture of we know the government has spent at Trump properties. Some of that money, of course, flows back to the president himself.
Assuming Trump earns 1 percent on every dollar which comes into his businesses, he’s earned more than $12,000 from the government’s spending at his properties. (The amount which flows to Trump himself isn’t clear, since the Trump Organization is a privately held company.) That’s more than eight times what he paid in income taxes in 2016 and 2017.
These are the sorts of assessments that Trump was hoping he could avoid by not releasing his tax returns.