At a recent Michigan Press Association forum, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar effusively endorsed greater financial transparency of political candidates: “The quick answer is, absolutely, yes we must.”
Yet Thanedar, an Ann Arbor businessman whose business career includes booms and busts, has refused to release any details about his finances to Bridge Magazine, including his 2017 tax return.
Thanedar is challenging Gretchen Whitmer, a former state Senate Minority Leader, and former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed for the Democratic nomination at the Aug. 7 primary. All three have said publicly that Michigan needs more financial disclosure, both in the governor’s office and the Legislature.
Here’s what the three Democrats disclosed — or didn’t — in response to Bridge’s latest request.
“I’ve already complied with the federal financial disclosure. I got nothing to hide,” El-Sayed said at a Michigan Press Association candidates’ forum earlier in May.
“Of course you should comply with the highest possible disclosure,” he said. “You should show everybody where all your money is. And at the same time, you should be honest about where that money is coming from into your campaign coffers.”
El-Sayed released his 2016 tax returns and detailed information about his finances when Bridge requested such information earlier this year.
In Bridge’s latest request, El-Sayed released his 2017 federal returns filed jointly with his wife, Sarah Jukaku. The couple reported $107,171 in adjusted gross income, including wages, interest, business income (El-Sayed reported earning $11,878 from a tutoring business) and rental real estate income.
El-Sayed, a physician, and Jukaku reported $12,296 in total federal taxes in 2017.
The campaign previously disclosed that El-Sayed and Jukaku own a condo in Ann Arbor that they lease. Jukaku also owns an apartment in Bangalore, India, that she leases, and co-owns another property.
Thanedar has refused to disclose details of his finances, despite multiple statements issued through social media that he would require financial disclosure for state elected leaders.
“As governor, I will demand full disclosure for candidates running for any state office to shine a light on conflicts of interest. Information must be easily accessible by the public. Period #PeopleOverProfit,” Thanedar wrote Jan. 8 on Twitter.
A second tweet on March 16 read: “#Transparency should NOT be an option for our elected officials.” Thanedar added that he would favor making the state Legislature subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act, creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission and increasing financial reporting disclosures “to give greater access to the public.”
At the MPA forum, Thanedar said he is most concerned about the influence of dark money and corporate influence in politics: “Our state is last in transparency and ethics,” he said.
On Detroit-area radio station 910 AM last week, Thanedar said in response to a question that he paid more than $3 million in taxes in 2016, though he did not know the precise amount paid to the state and federal governments.
“I pay my taxes. I pay fairly,” he said. “I will release my tax returns when they’re ready.”
Thanedar did not release any financial information to Bridge, including his tax returns. He did not say why, when reached briefly by phone Monday.
In February, he had called Bridge’s request for financial information “premature.”
“I believe Michigan voters have the right to relevant financial information associated with political candidates running for office. I intend to release my financial information to the public sometime soon,” he wrote at the time. “I will release this information with ample time for voters to make a decision about who they choose to be their next Governor.
“Releasing that information now is — in my estimation — slightly premature. I will give this information to Bridge Magazine when my accountant prepares my financial disclosure document and I have had a chance to review it.”
“We have a right to know who our public servants, who the candidates, are working for,” Whitmer said during the MPA candidate forum. “We have a right to ask those questions. I think that we need leaders who are going to be fearless about telling you what their priorities are, what their philosophy is, what their background is, who they’re beholden to.”
Whitmer did not fully respond to Bridge’s disclosure request in February. She released her individual 2015 and 2016 income tax returns then, which she filed separately from her husband, Marc Mallory. She did not disclose other financial information or tax returns for Mallory.
She provided more financial details in response to Bridge’s latest request, including her 2017 federal income tax return. Whitmer did not, however, provide tax returns for her spouse, as requested of all candidates.
“We are not disclosing the 2016 or 2017 income tax returns for Gretchen's husband, Marc Mallory, since the couple files separately and he is not the candidate,” campaign spokesman Zack Pohl told Bridge.
Whitmer did not report any wages or salaries to the IRS last year. She reported $17,009 in adjusted gross income based mostly on dividends and interest. Whitmer reported owing no tax to the federal government in 2017; Pohl said that was because Whitmer overpaid in 2016 and had made quarterly payments in 2017.
In other financial information, Whitmer reported holding more than $1.4 million in securities as of Dec. 31, 2017, and receiving dividends of $14,039.
Her home in East Lansing is valued at $627,400, her campaign said, and she and her husband jointly own a lake house in Elk Rapids valued at $345,600.
Whitmer reported no business ownership, loans owed to the filer, gifts exceeding $500 or honoraria. Her campaign said travel expenses can be found on her campaign finance reports filed with the state.