Hillary Clinton disclosed details of her vast personal riches Friday, including tax returns and an itemized list of millions of dollars in paid speeches she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, gave in 2013 alone.
It may blunt a key line of attack from Republican Jeb Bush, who has chided her for a lack of transparency in her personal finances and government emails since releasing 33 years of his tax returns earlier this year. The Bush and Clinton camps can quibble about whose information is better presented or more complete, but together they've now set a pretty high standard for personal financial disclosure and they are at relative parity in that department.
Her campaign hopes that disclosing details of her finances will allow her to focus more on contrasting her platform with those of her rivals for the presidency — a set of policies she says will give more Americans opportunities to climb the economic ladder.
The Clintons have earned $141 million since 2007
Friday's disclosures make clear that Clinton has made a lot more money than Bush. She's paid $57.5 million in taxes since 2007, well more than the $38 million Bush made between 1981 and 2013. In 2013, the most lucrative year for which he has provided information, Bush made $7.36 million. That year, the Clintons pulled in $27.47 million.
They also earned $28.3 million in 2014, paying an effective tax rate that year of 45.8 percent in federal, state, and local taxes — partly due to the tax joys of living in New York.
Their biggest source of income in recent years has been paid speeches, a fact reinforced by Friday's first-time disclosure of $22.3 million in earnings from lecture circuit stops in 2013. Clinton already had released the couple's speaking fees for 2014 and the first several months of 2015.
Overall, they've made $141 million since 2007. Much of that money — more than $48 million — came from speeches given over a 29-month period beginning in January 2013. Many of the firms who paid the Clintons to speak have business before the federal government. Some of them had business before the State Department when she ran the agency from 2009 through early 2013.
Those sources of income will be a point of contention in political battles, but Clinton's team clearly hopes the disclosure of her earnings and taxes will help her stay focused on policy debates rather than fending off charges that she has a lot to hide.
Clinton wants to boost taxes on investment income
Clinton hopes to make the case that the big difference between her and Bush isn't who's richer, who pays more in taxes, or who is more open about personal finances. Instead, it's the fact that she wants people like herself and Bush to pay more in taxes.
"We hear very different principles from the Republican candidates running for president. They want to give me another tax cut I don’t need instead of putting middle class families first," Clinton said in a statement accompanying her release. "Families like mine that reap rewards from our economy have a responsibility to pay our fair share."
None of what Clinton wants to do with the tax code is particularly radical. But Republicans, most of whom have signed a pledge to never raise new taxes, have given her a lot of room to contrast with them.
Vox's Matt Yglesias wrote a really great explainer on Clinton's plan to tax capital gains from shorter-term investments at a higher rate. I won't try to duplicate his work here, but the general idea is that she can raise more revenue from wealthy investors and encourage long-term investing. Like most Democrats, she also wants to close the so-called carried interest loophole, which allows investment managers to pay a lower rate on their earnings.
And she says she'll push for implementation of the "Buffett rule," which is designed to ensure that millionaires pay a minimum effective tax rate of 30 percent.
All of those ideas, not to mention corollaries such as fining executives when their companies break the rules, are popular with Democrats and fit neatly into what Clinton says is an economic agenda that seeks both greater fairness and economic growth.
Republicans, she argues, would skew the tax system to more greatly favor the wealthy. Bush hasn't unveiled a tax plan and has been pretty careful to avoid the subject so far, so it's hard to judge what he hasn't said. But Marco Rubio's tax proposal would give bigger tax cuts to multimillionaires, and Sen. Rand Paul has proposed suspending the capital gains tax altogether.
In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the vast majority of benefits from the preferential treatment of investment income goes to the very richest Americans.
For example, CBO estimates that more than 90 percent of the benefits of reduced tax rates on capital gains and dividends will accrue to households in the highest income quintile in 2013, with almost 70 percent going to households in the top percentile.
Republicans say Clinton is still hiding important information
Republicans said the financial disclosures aren't nearly as important to voters as her lack of transparency on another batch of files: her emails from her time as secretary of state.
Bush has released much of his communication from the time he was governor of Florida, and his spokesperson said Friday that the Clinton team's disclosures were simply a way to distract from her failure to make public documents that she kept on a personal server at State and from her ties to businesses that made her family rich through paid speeches.
Her disclosures are "an attempt to distract from her lack of transparency and conflicts of interest," Bush communications director Tim Miller said in an email.