The Current Crisis

Kill the Rich Politics

In California if you pay millions in taxes the press immediately concludes you're a tax cheat.

By 7.24.02

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In 2001, Gray Davis and his wife paid roughly $55,000 in state and federal taxes. Bill Simon paid $1.5 million in state and federal taxes. The year before he paid almost $2 million. Yet, according to Davis, Simon isn't paying his "fair share."

Davis likes rich people as long as they donate to his campaign. But if they run against him, he suddenly turns into Karl Marx and treats them as lepers. Davis is playing the class warfare card frequently these days, casting himself as a working-class guy forced to fundraise by challenges from "billionaires." He tells reporters that he lives in a small condo in West Hollywood.

But the rich man in the race is Gray Davis. His campaign treasury is overflowing at over $30 million, while Simon scrapes by with $5 million (at last count). Were the circumstances reversed, Davis would probably be whining about the unfairness of fundraising inequities and saying that "campaigns should not be decided by money."

California reporters appear to view Simon's personal wealth as a character flaw while remaining fairly incurious about Davis's fundraising methods. After weeks of hounding Simon for his tax returns, the candidate showed them to reporters this week. This of course didn't satisfy them, because the candidate gave them only 3 hours or so to examine them. How are reporters supposed to nail the candidate with such a limitation? They wanted to dissect them at their leisure at a local H&R Block.

The Los Angeles Times complained that an "independent unraveling of the candidate's convoluted finances was virtually impossible." Translation: We are too uninformed to know what to make of them. When reporters pouted to Simon that he wasn't letting them take his returns to "tax experts," Simon replied, "You've got plenty of time to take a look at it" and suggested they "take notes."

So now reporters have a new issue: Simon won't release his tax returns on their terms. Until Simon lets them pass his tax returns around the newsroom, it is "unclear," the Times intones, "whether Monday's disclosure" would "lay the matter to rest." Unclear? It is altogether clear that the matter lays in the media's hands and they have no intention of letting it rest.

The Times thought it fair to run a picture accompanying its story of a protester with a box on his head reading, "Simon is a tax cheat."

The more you pay in taxes, it appears, the less respect you get. Simon has forked over to the state and federal government in the last 11 years at least $11 million. He has also given millions to charity.

But none of this impresses the media. They are far more worried about Simon's private finances than Davis's public mismanagement. Davis's $24 billion dollar deficit is not as disqualifying to them as whether or not a candidate used a tax shelter.

Simon can't win this race unless he circumvents the media through effective television and radio advertising, or somehow shames them into covering the race with a modicum of objectivity. By pointing out media bias against him, Simon is likely to forge a bond with California voters, many of whom find the liberal media monopoly in the state tiresome.

Davis and his friends in the media are convinced that they represent the views and values of the average Californian. But the success of conservative initiatives in the state -- on marriage, affirmative action, bilingual education, etc. -- indicates that their liberal elitism is hardly the norm. "Global warming" and "racial reparations" -- two of Davis's enthusiasms this past year - place him farther outside the California mainstream than Simon.

And with Davis raising taxes on Californians to pay for his mismanagement, they aren't like to care about Simon and "tax shelters." They may even ask Simon where they can find them.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.