A month after California's three major candidates for governor made an unprecedented offer to publicly release 25 years of tax returns, voters are still waiting.

But on Monday, the campaign of billionaire Republican Meg Whitman cleared up one big mystery: Rather than a simple summary of the forms, Whitman will release her actual tax returns for those years.

The question now remains: When?

Whitman's communications director, Tucker Bounds, reiterated that she will release her returns only after presumed Democratic nominee Jerry Brown releases his. And she wants Brown to go even further, back to 1983, the year he left the governor's office.

Meanwhile, the spokesman for state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, badly trailing Whitman for the Republican nomination, again said Poizner will release his returns once Whitman does.

No state agency requires candidates for major office to release their personal tax returns, but calls to do so have become a customary challenge from advocates for government transparency.

Bay Area News Group asked the gubernatorial candidates to release their returns from the last 10 years in January, so they could be posted on newspaper Web sites. In March, on the first day of the GOP convention in Santa Clara, Whitman startled reporters when she said she'd do better than that — and challenged her opponents to do the same.


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Then came Whitman's apparent about-face 11 days later, when she said at a Sacramento news conference she might simply release a "summary statement" of her returns.

On Monday, Bounds said Whitman "misspoke" and will indeed share a quarter century of filings to the Internal Revenue Service, California Tax Franchise Board and similar agencies in other states where she's lived during that time.

So is Brown, the state's attorney general who served two terms as governor before term limits became law, still planning to rise to Whitman's challenge?

"Right now we have a team of people working to prepare the returns for release and looking for the appropriate venue to do that,'' said Brown's spokesman, Sterling Clifford.

Among the tasks of the tax teams: blackening out personal information such as bank account and Social Security numbers.

Clifford also wondered why Whitman was demanding Brown release 27 years worth of returns while she herself is prepared to release only 25.

"It's certainly not the first time Meg Whitman has shown that she has one standard for herself and another standard for everyone else,'' Clifford said.

Some Republicans have implied that Whitman suspects Brown may have sought to enrich himself in the years after leaving the governor's office by trading on his state connections.

"Jerry Brown needs to disclose his sources of income and say how much he earned immediately following his time as governor," said Bounds. "To date, he has not.''

Jarrod Agen, Poizner's spokesman, added to the Alice-in-Wonderland mood by saying he expects Poizner won't have to release his returns in the end, because he doubts Whitman ever will.

Indeed, despite Monday's clarification from the Whitman camp, there's no telling how long things could drag out if each side's opening argument is, "You first."

"They're trying to play head games with each other,'' said John Pitney, a political science and government professor at Claremont McKenna College. "There's not much overlap between the world of maturity and the world of campaigning.''

Contact Ken McLaughlin at 408-920-5552.