In 2012, Donald Trump called President Obama “the least transparent president in the history of this country.”
Then he offered to donate $5 million to charity if President Obama would release “his college records and applications” and his “passport applications and records.”
Now, in 2016, Trump is facing a similar challenge from a 26-year-old Marine Corps veteran named Pete Kiernan.
On Crowdpac.com, Kiernan hopes to raise at least $25,000. Then, if Trump releases his tax returns by October 19 (the final debate), Kiernan will donate the money he has raised to non-profit organizations that assist veterans, including Team Rubicon, the Special Ops Warrior Foundation, and the Yellow Ribbon Fund. For a complete list, visit the campaign’s main page. (Disclosure: In April 2016, I made a personal, impact-driven investment
in Crowdpac.com’s Series A financing round.)
Given Trump’s vocal support of veterans, I imagine he will recognize the great good that can come from Kiernan’s proposal.
But taking Trump’s own 2012 offer to President Obama into account, I’d like to assist Kiernan in his campaign. If Kiernan’s campaign hits or exceeds its target, I will match the total amount he reaches with a 5x contribution, up to $5 million.
In other words, if Kiernan raises $200,000 on Crowdpac.com, I’ll contribute $1 million to the campaign. If he raises $1 million, I’ll contribute $5 million.
When Kiernan deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 as a Marine Corp Raider, he put his life on the line in the service of his country and his fellow citizens. He knows first-hand that a life of service comes with risk and sacrifice. He has the moral authority to challenge Trump to demonstrate his own commitment to the core American values of transparency and accountability.
As Kiernan writes on his Crowdpac.com campaign page, “All military recruits make required disclosures before we are declared fit to serve. As a man who claims to be a big supporter of veterans like me, I’m hoping this message will encourage Mr. Trump to meet our standard and show us what kind of leader he would be by finally making his tax returns public.”
In adding an explicitly financial incentive to his challenge, Kiernan sheds light on a glaring but under-acknowledged truth: For quite some time now, Trump has been treating his tax returns as an asset to leverage, on his own timetable, for his own gain.
Trump often says he needs to keep his tax returns private until the IRS finishes auditing him. But the IRS itself has said this isn’t necessary. And recently Trump changed his tune, saying he’ll release his returns as soon as Hillary Clinton releases the 33,000 emails she deleted from her email server.
What this means, of course, is that there’s no real reason that Trump is keeping his returns secret, except that he sees them as a bargaining chip to utilize.
This isn’t a new position! In 2011, Trump told ABC News that if he ran for president in 2012 he would likely only release his tax returns if President Obama released his birth certificate.
In 2012, Trump exclaimed that Mitt Romney should do a “swap” with President Obama — with the former disclosing his tax returns only if the latter shared his “college records” and “passport applications.”
In a functioning democracy, the public shouldn’t be forced to bargain with a major presidential candidate to obtain access to his tax returns. And for the last 40 years, it hasn’t had to. With the exception of Gerald Ford, every major candidate has shared this information with voters.
Recognizing that they have an obligation to the citizens they hope to serve, they engage in this simple act of transparency and accountability, in the hope that it will help voters make more informed choices on Election Day.
And Trump? While he dubbed President Obama the least transparent president in history, he himself seems determined to earn the consolation prize of “least transparent presidential candidate.”
The great irony, of course, is that the obligation toward transparency should be especially high for Donald Trump.
After all, he’s promising to reform a “rigged system” where insiders trade influence for their own personal gain. To credibly combat this system, Trump should be leading by example and setting the highest possible standard for transparency and accountability.
Trump’s business interests are also more complex and far-reaching than any other presidential nominee in history. They’re global, they span many different industries, and according to the McClatchy news service, they “cross or have crossed paths with at least 16 federal agencies.”
Because of how often Donald Trump’s decisions as president could potentially impact his business interests, it has in fact never been more necessary for a candidate to release tax returns than it is for him.
While Trump often talks about all he is going to do for the American people on Day 1 of his presidency, engaging in this simple act of accountability and transparency is something he could do right now — today — to demonstrate his commitment to the public interest.
Instead, we get all talk and no action.
“I would release tax returns,” Trump promised in February 2015, months before he declared his candidacy.
“So, the answer is, I’ll release. Hopefully before the election I’ll release. And I’d like to release,” he claimed in May 2016.
“I don’t think anyone cares [about my tax returns],” he said earlier this month.
It’s like his record of service in the Vietnam War all over again: Deferral. Deferral. Deferral.
But as Trump skirts his obligation to the American people, we must show him that we do value accountability and transparency. One way to do this is to support Kiernan’s campaign.
The ingenuity of Kiernan’s proposal is how it gives Trump a strong incentive to act but doesn’t reward him directly for something he should have already done. Instead, men and women to whom all Americans owe a great debt of gratitude will benefit from any positive action he takes.
As part of LinkedIn for Good, my colleagues and I work to assist veterans transitioning to new phases in their careers. Since 2014, we’ve helped more than 95,000 service members and veterans with free access to LinkedIn’s Jobseeker Premium service and more recently, free training on Lynda.com. We also engage in significant outreach to employers, recruiters, and hiring managers, educating them on the skills and attributes that make veterans so valuable as private-sector professionals after their military careers end. It’s some of the most rewarding work we do.
But there’s always more that all of us can do to support our veterans, who set the standard for selfless service and help maintain the security and stability that democracy needs to thrive.
That’s why I believe veterans’ organizations are the ideal beneficiaries of Pete Kiernan’s challenge to Donald Trump, and why I’m supporting this campaign.
In the end, it’s a rare opportunity where all American citizens, including Donald Trump, can work together to achieve great public good on two dimensions at once.
By releasing his tax returns by the third and final debate (October 19), Trump can help voters make more informed decisions on Election Day and support many worthy veterans’ organizations at the same time.
For Trump, the reasons to release his tax returns have always been compelling.
Doing so would show the American people he doesn’t just talk about accountability and transparency, but also walks the walk.
It would show the American people that he understands that committing to serve them comes with special obligations and responsibilities that don’t exist for private citizens.
But Pete Kiernan’s campaign gives Trump even more incentive to finally take action on this matter.
So I ask you to support this campaign and spread the word to others. The American people deserve to know what’s on Trump’s tax returns. And Trump must show that he truly embraces accountability and transparency, and understands what it means to work on behalf of the public interest.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to note my status as a Crowdpac.com investor.
This was originally published here on September 12, 2016