Bevin should release promised tax returns

As Republican gubernatorial nominee, Matt Bevin refused to release his tax returns, saying he would release them if elected.

But now Gov.-elect Bevin says he won’t.

Coming off a resounding win last week, he might feel he can refuse without political consequences.

Perhaps he can. There is no law that says he must release his tax returns, although under the laws governing executive branch ethics, he is required to reveal significant information about sources of income for himself and his immediate family.

Bevin certainly should release his returns — not just to keep his promise. There’s a good reason why the public should know the sources of Bevin’s considerable wealth.

Every governor, every powerful public servant has a lot to say about how billions of taxpayer money is spent, who gets contracts, jobs, consulting fees and funds to invest.

History is full of politicians who, with that enormous public checkbook in hand, enriched themselves and their friends.

The best protection against that is transparency: revealing where these powerful people have laid up their treasure.

Kentucky’s governors and gubernatorial candidates haven’t always released their tax returns. The practice began with Paul Patton, who took the office in 1995 just as the state was recovering from the shock of the BOPTROT scandal.

That federal investigation led to the conviction of more than a dozen legislators for accepting bribes and other inducements to help the horse racing industry.

Since then, governors and candidates for governor traditionally have released their tax returns, including the most recent Republican governor, Ernie Fletcher.

In fact, Fletcher made this an issue when Steve Beshear challenged him in 2007. Beshear, who had released tax returns in earlier races, initially hesitated but ultimately released his returns well before the election, and has done so each year he’s served as governor.

Bevin did not answer questions about why he won’t release his returns, but he should reconsider.

Bevin ran as an outsider, benefiting from a deep and broad distrust of government.

It would be a true shame if one of his first things he does only reinforces that distrust.

Lexington Herald-Leader

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