Three of the five Republican gubernatorial candidates have refused to release their federal income tax returns.
Former state Sen. Mae Beavers, Williamson County businessman Bill Lee and former Economic and Community Development commissioner Randy Boyd have declined to give their returns or even a tax summary to the Tennessean.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black was the most transparent in her release of her 1040 from 2016. State Speaker of the House Beth Harwell released an income tax summary created by an accountant. Black gave over $4.1 million to charity from 2013 to 2016. Harwell did not provide a number, but instead said her family donated 10 percent of their annual income.
Aside from Beavers, the GOP candidates who refused to release their returns are expected to be the wealthiest. Revealing their returns would further the narrative that Lee and Boyd are out-of-touch millionaires who stumbled into the governor’s race ready to write a check large enough to buy them the office.
By refusing to be transparent with their wealth, Boyd and Lee have opened themselves up to speculation about their investments, the origins of their wealth and how the government may or may not have supplemented their millions.
Why would these candidates want to cover up their returns?
A Boyd spokesperson attempted to make up for his lack of transparency in his finances with full transparency in her response as to why: He wanted to see what the other candidates had first to figure out how bad his damage could be.
According to the Tennessean:
“Boyd spokeswoman Laine Arnold said the request is ‘something we will certainly consider in due time once the final field of candidates is set and as we see what the other candidates intend to do.’
“When pressed further, Arnold said the issue is something that will be looked at after the first of the year.”
What’s more likely is the Boyd does not want Tennesseans to know that while their hard-earned money is going to paying federal income taxes, his is not.
Since 2006, Boyd has chosen to skirt around federal income taxes by incorporating his business in Delaware, a state that has been said to “resemble a freewheeling offshore (tax) haven.”
Anyone familiar with Boyd’s business dealings knows that a shifty move like this isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is that he didn’t just up and move to another country entirely.
The “Tennessee” businessman has made millions from moving the jobs he creates overseas. Boyd’s company, Radio Systems Corporation, has more major business locations abroad than it does in the US including China, Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
A Boyd tax return could reveal a number of investments and questionable business decisions, but for Lee, his real secret could be just how much family money he’s used to build his wealth.
Lee claimed his lack of transparency is in the best interest of “protecting my business and the over 1,200 employees there,” translating to “out-of-touch millionaire doesn’t want Tennesseans to know about his family money.”
Just like President Trump’s small loan of $1 million, the financial security from his family has kept Lee comfortable for his entire career. Lee joined the family business right out of college. He inherited Lee Company and became the President of the $225 million business when his father retired.
According to his campaign finance report, Lee has received $80,000 from family members, over $15,000 from employees and over $20,000 from companies with the same address as the Lee company.
A Lee tax return could raise questions of all the funds he’s gained at the expense of taxpayers. The Lee Company has received over $9 million in state and local contracts in Tennessee over the past decade.
What this means for the governor’s race?
In a state with a healthy economy like Tennessee, releasing tax returns shows the public which candidates can be trusted with state dollars, which candidates will treat state funds with as much care as their own income, and which candidates make the smartest, Tennessee-focused investments.
As the Boyd and Lee campaigns prefer to keep their supporters in the dark about where their wealth comes from, the candidates who have released their returns are setting the standard for transparency in the race.