Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has published twelve years of her tax returns as part of her campaign to become the Democratic nominee for President. The returns, which can be found through a link to her Senate web page, are a direct challenge to her rival Democrats and to the President.
Gillibrand has become the first nominee for president to release her tax returns for 2018, saying to CNN’s Alisyn Camerota that “it allows people to know you’re working for them and nobody else.”
She closed a video on her campaign website by asking voters to join her in calling on all the presidential nominees to follow her example.
Elizabeth Warren has already released ten years of her tax returns as part of an anti-corruption campaign she took part in last year, before officially deciding to run for president (though she has not yet released her 2018 returns).
Bernie Sanders has been challenged on the issue, and he has promised to release ten years of returns, but has yet to fulfill that promise or provide a timetable for it. At a CNN town hall, he said: “It just was a mechanical issue. We don’t have accountants at home. My wife does most of it and we will get that stuff out.”
Presidential nominees have been releasing their tax returns to the public since the 1970s, but the issue took on special relevance in 2016 when Donald Trump shirked tradition and refused to release his returns. Even in the White House, he has refused to release anything, leading to rampant speculation about the possibly corrupt (let’s face it, almost certainly corrupt) nature of his financial dealings.
Gillibrand’s move is part of a broader campaign strategy to become the anti-Trump candidate. Last weekend, she spoke to supporters in New York in front of the Trump International Hotel, lambasting the building as “a shrine to greed, division and vanity” and the president for “tearing apart the moral fabric of our country.”
Gillibrand has struggled to stand out among the crowded field of Democratic contenders, only managing around 1% in polls.
One way that lower-profile candidates can stand out in a field that includes big-hitters like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden (the current frontrunners in the race according to polling) is to churn out social media hits. Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke have both benefited from speeches and town halls taking off online.
One reliable way to make an impact is to antagonize Trump, who has a habit of posting vitriolic tweets against those he perceives as political enemies, and – much like Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” – being included has become something of an honor for the President’s opponents.
According to Dan Sena, former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Trump tweets served as “rocket fuel” for many of the most successful candidates in last year’s midterm elections.
Gillibrand is perfectly positioned to raise Trump’s hackles.
As the junior Senator from New York, she represents Trump’s hometown – the epicenter of the Trump Organization and location of numerous Trump buildings. Using Trump buildings as a backdrop, the Senator has contrasted the President’s “cowardice” against her own campaign slogan, “Brave Wins.”
Gillibrand’s slogan is particularly apt, because she was an early supporter of the #MeToo movement, and turned heads by calling for Al Franken’s resignation, even when other Democratic Party leaders held back.
If she succeeds in the Democratic presidential primaries, she will undoubtedly use her support from #MeToo to annoy and challenge Trump, who has been accused dozens of times of sexual misconduct and abuse.