The Not So Profitable President

Ryan Heshmati

February 24, 2023

President Trump ran on a campaign emphasizing that he was not a politician but a businessman. He once bragged, “Part of the beauty of me is that I am very rich.” The recent release of the president’s tax returns has prompted a lot of criticism for, what Martin Shiel, a former IRS agent, claims include corresponding figures between income and liabilities, “…[that are] a statistical impossibility.” CNN highlights one situation where a helicopter company owned by Trump reported both $42,965 in income and expenses in 2017. There is a plethora of information available, and the complete story behind the numbers may never be understood.

How We Got Here

The Democrat-controlled Ways and Means Committee voted on December 21, 2022, to release the former president’s returns spanning from 2015 to 2020. The timing of the release is key because if it had not been done before the House of Representatives was handed over to the Republican majority in January, it might never have occurred. Trump responded to the vote in a statement protesting, “The Democrats should have never done it…and it’s going to lead to horrible things for so many people,” what he meant by the latter fragment of the statement is unclear. 

The Numbers

Most striking about the release is that President Trump declared that he did not have positive income from 2015 to 2017 and additionally in 2020. Edward J. McCaffery, in a CNN piece, calculates Trump paid an effective tax rate of 4% in 2018 and notes that of the returns released, his largest tax bill came in that same year, sitting at almost $1 million, with the lowest in 2020, at $0. CNBC further points out that between 2015 and 2017, President Trump had a foreign bank account in China, as well as Ireland and the UK. In the returns released for the following years, only the foreign account in the UK remained. 


Politico points out the Tax Policy Center’s Steve Rosenthal expressed concern regarding the importance of the former president’s returns before 2015 and complained, “…the committee failed to ask for it.” The Associated Press notes a potential contradiction with the aforementioned foreign account in China being reported until 2017 but asserting, “It was closed in 2015, I believe,” in a 2020 debate question response.  


The American people have yet to learn everything regarding the former president’s tax situation, and they may never get the full picture. With the information that has been reported so far, many questions arise regarding how such a self-reportedly wealthy individual, especially one in a government office, paid so little in taxes for multiple years.