I have previously expressed very substantial reservations about Donald Trump’s candidacy, but decline to join in the criticism about his refusal to release his tax returns. While a norm has developed suggesting that citizens have a right to see tax returns of presidential candidates and indeed candidates for some other offices, it is a bad norm. It invades privacy, discourages some people from entering politics, distracts from policy issues, and harms the prospects of those with complex financial affairs.
The secrecy of our tax returns from prying eyes is itself a valuable social norm that reflects the overriding fact that our earnings are our own, not the government’s. The government can scrutinize our tax returns but only for the purpose of showing what we owe. Strong laws protect the secrecy of our tax returns, showing the strength of privacy norms in this area.
Thus, countervailing factors would have to be strong enough to overcome this basic norm. But in fact there are issues peculiar to political campaign that also militate against a norm for disclosure.