SAN JOSE — Pledging to post 10 years of personal tax returns on the Internet, Democrat Jerry Brown on Wednesday became the only major candidate for California governor to answer a call from Bay Area News Group to end a weeks-long dispute about the release of returns.
But because both GOP candidates, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, declined to make the same commitment, it appears none of the candidates — including Brown — will be releasing his or her returns any time soon.
In a front-page editorial on April 15, Bay Area News Group papers asked the three candidates to promise, in writing, by noon Wednesday to make a decade of federal and state returns public at noon May 5. According to the editorial, "If anyone refuses, then the others will be off the hook — but neither we nor voters will forget who refused."
The idea was to try to resolve a dispute that resulted when all the candidates said they would release tax returns, but then indicated they didn't trust the others to release their returns if they released theirs first. With a former two-term governor and two mega-wealthy former Silicon Valley tech executives in the race, the issue has become a major sticking point over transparency and keeping one's word.
Only Brown bothered to write back.
"As you know, shortly after being elected governor in 1974, I did something no governor had done before — I released my tax returns," Brown wrote in a letter e-mailed to Dave Butler, the newspaper group's chief news executive.
Added Brown: "I have always believed this is important, and today — after revelations of Wall Street manipulation and crimes and an economic meltdown caused by greed and deception — it's even more important."
Brown then pledged to post those returns on his campaign website, www.jerrybrown.org, by the deadline.
"We appreciate Attorney General Brown's commitment to release his tax returns, but are disappointed that Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner continue to refuse to share their tax information with the public," Butler said. "We offered a plan that met the objections the candidates for governor had raised — that they did not want to release their returns unless their opponents did so as well.
"At this point, it seems legitimate to conclude that Ms. Whitman and Mr. Poizner were not being candid about their objections. The public is not well served by their conduct," he said.
Whitman's campaign maintained that allowing former Gov. Brown to release "only 10 years of returns" wouldn't be fair because it wouldn't contain key years from the 1980s, after Brown left the governor's office.
"If Jerry Brown lives up to his previous promise to turn over tax returns 'dating back to 1983,' we will turn over 25 years of tax returns on May 5," Tucker Bounds, Whitman's communications director, said in a statement.
"It's a fair and important disclosure, because everyone knows Meg was financially successful at eBay, but Jerry Brown has never fully disclosed the sources of his income for the decade after he served as governor of California," Bounds said. "Jerry Brown is hiding the ball."
Sterling Clifford, Brown's spokesman, scoffed at that notion, arguing that it was just "another transparent dodge."
Jarrod Agen, Poizner's spokesman, said Wednesday that his campaign remained "open" to releasing tax returns, "but we still do not believe Meg Whitman will ever release" hers.
Agen did not respond to questions about whether Poizner had seriously weighed Bay Area News Group's request.