2018 State Races

No surprises in Pearce tax returns

By Andrew Oxford
aoxford@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 10/17/18

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the Republican nominee for governor, is worth millions of dollars. Beyond that fact, however, four pages of tax returns the candidate released Tuesday provide few …

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2018 State Races

No surprises in Pearce tax returns

Posted

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the Republican nominee for governor, is worth millions of dollars. Beyond that fact, however, four pages of tax returns the candidate released Tuesday provide few details about the finances of a man who made a fortune in the oil field services industry and who has ranked among the wealthiest members of Congress.

Pressed to release his tax returns, first by The New Mexican and later by his political opponents, Pearce finally published four pages — a couple each from his state and federal income tax filings.

The documents show the congressman from Hobbs had an adjusted gross income of $431,114 in 2017 and had a total of $33,111 in federal tax.

But Pearce’s campaign did not release any records for years before 2017. Nor did the campaign release any other pages of the congressman’s tax filings, which might detail profits from specific business interests, properties he owns and which nonprofit organizations he personally has supported.

“Releasing tax returns is neither required by law nor done by precedent,” Kevin Sheridan, a spokesman for Pearce’s campaign, said in an email.

Instead, Pearce’s campaign has pointed to financial disclosures he filed as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Pearce’s Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, posted five years of tax filings online during the primary election.

“There is no question now that Steve Pearce has something to hide from New Mexico voters,” campaign manager Dominic Gabello said in a statement.

The New Mexican asked each candidate for governor in May to turn over their two most recent income tax returns. Lujan Grisham did not initially release anything to the newspaper. Instead, an aide referred a reporter to her congressional disclosures.

Only after primary opponent Jeff Apodaca attacked her over the issue did she post recent filings on her campaign website.

Pearce held out until Wednesday, as Democrats needled him on the point.

In recent days, three Democratic district attorneys — including Marco Serna of Santa Fe — called for an investigation into Pearce’s financial interests. They urged the U.S. House Committee on Ethics to determine whether Pearce has “used his office to make millions from his oil and gas equipment businesses.”

Over the summer, The New Mexican delved into the finances of his charitable foundation. Its tax filings are public and show the Pearce family has donated to a combination of philanthropies big and small as well as to controversial groups, including organizations that fight against LGBT rights.

Pearce’s campaign eventually said it would release tax returns this month.

The pages published on Pearce’s campaign website Tuesday show he reported $332,595 in losses under the category of rental real estate, royalties, partnerships, S corporations, trusts and other such interests. His campaign said these were all losses from investments. Pearce and his wife, Cynthia, filed jointly and his campaign said their investments are managed independently without their input.

The congressman reported $124,322 in salary; $395,281 in capital gains during what was a bumper year for the stock market; $145,789 in ordinary dividends; $91,509 in qualified dividends. The couple reported $54,523 in Social Security benefits. They also claimed $175,494 in deductions, which Pearce’s campaign said were mostly charitable donations. The couple overpaid their federal tax by $96,789 and applied the balance to their 2018 tax bill.

The campaign did not release the schedules detailing these deductions and sources of income, however.

Candidates for governor are only required to file three-page financial disclosure forms with the Secretary of State’s Office, which can be vague or at best confusing.

But after then-candidate Donald Trump withheld his tax returns, candidates for governor around the country have challenged one another to release IRS filings.

In some states, such as Minnesota, governors have been doing this for years, before Trump ever came to office.

New Mexico, however, continues to be rocked by the occasional corruption scandal. A former secretary of the Taxation and Revenue Department is facing corruption charges and a former state senator is in prison.

Details of a public official’s business interests can help the public understand that official’s background and experience as well as reveal how they use their position in government, said Kathleen Sabo, executive director of the group New Mexico Ethics Watch.

“What we want to see is that public officials are working for the public, not to benefit themselves,” Sabo said.

Gubernatorial candidates releasing their tax returns, she added: “Would be a great precedent.”

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