Candidate Rob McKenna should release tax returns

It's become accepted candidates for higher office release personal financial information.

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Gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna is correct that the issue of candidates’ tax returns are an unnecessary distraction from policy discussions — a “phony issue.”

But it’s McKenna, a Republican, who has created the distraction by refusing Tuesday to release his tax returns.

His rival, Democrat Jay Inslee, released five years of tax returns last week, and his campaign had called on McKenna to do the same. (An error was discovered in Inslee’s 2009 return and he says it has been corrected.)

McKenna should simply release his returns and move on.

We don’t believe McKenna has a thing to hide. He has been an excellent public servant, currently as attorney general, and he conducts himself in a manner beyond reproach.

McKennna seems to have taken this stand out of principle, feeling tax-return disclosure goes too far. McKenna also acknowledges his decision to decline is similar to that of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney who won’t release more tax returns.

There was a time when it asking a candidate to release tax returns would not have been considered. Decades ago the public knew little about the private lives of candidates.

Times have changed and political campaigns have evolved. The accepted norm today is for candidates seeking to be governor, a member of Congress or president to release years of tax returns to eliminate any doubt about their personal finances.

To this point, candidates for other statewide offices as well as local offices rarely disclose this type of financial information. The line has been drawn at governor, and that feels about right.

While the financial information is usually not crucial to a campaign, it certainly gives voters some insight into candidates’ lives. It lets them know how much money they have earned, what kind of investments they might have been involved in and how much they donate, and to what groups.

When someone makes the decision to run for higher political offices they must expect every aspect of their personal and professional lives to be scrutinized.

Sure, it can be uncomfortable for the candidates and their families. Yet, it’s where we are today. It’s the accepted standard for high-profile political campaigns.

McKenna doesn’t have to like it — and we doubt he ever will — but he needs to accept it. If McKenna (and Romney) would simply release the information the drama and distraction would be over.

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