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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
On Checking the Pockets of Presidential Contenders
3 November 2005
Like thousands of Americans, I also collect – within my limited means – presidential trivia, for my study and amusement. I share one not-so trivial news item which appeared in the Time magazine twenty five years ago, for its relevance in the forthcoming Sri Lankan presidential election, scheduled for November 17th. It also provides some details about the ‘then pockets’ of a B-movie actor-turned-presidential contender Ronald Reagan, and a peanut farmer-turned-American President, Jimmy Carter. Also of interest now, is a key-hole glimpse on money-managing practices of two American Presidents, one of whom is still living and had even become a Nobel Peace Prize laureate subsequently.
First to the material which I have saved in my file carrying humorous items on ‘Money’. Then, I’ll mention briefly what I requested from the two Sri Lankans who are now very much into the presidential sweepstakes.
Reagan Reveals His Income
[excerpts from Time magazine, August 11, 1980, p.25]
Throughout his political career, Ronald Reagan refused ‘as a matter of principle’ to reveal his tax returns, arguing that politicians are as deserving of privacy as ordinary citizens. But now that he is a candidate for President, says Aide Lyn Nofziger, ‘he kind of forfeits his right to privacy’. Not to mention the fact that Reagan’s secrecy about his private finances offered a tempting issue to his probable Democratic rival, Jimmy Carter, who regularly discloses his personal finances. Accordingly, Reagan last week released his 1979 federal income tax return.
It showed that the Republican nominee is outrunning Carter in the pocket-book as well as in the polls. While the President earned $275,136 and paid $64,944 in federal taxes last year, the G.O.P.candidate, who listed his occupation as ‘private business’, reported a taxable income of $515,878 and federal taxes of $230,886. His net worth is estimated to be more than $3 million; Carter’s was $893,304 in 1979.
Most of Reagan’s income came from fees for speeches ($380,500), radio commentaries on 200 stations ($58,453) and biweekly newspaper columns, other articles and book royalties ($26,757), nearly all of which ended in mid-November when he formally became a candidate. Such fees totaled $465,710, from which he subtracted $166,733 in business expenses, including payments to his agents and ghostwriter. Reagan also received interest and dividends of $114,348 and gross profits from $234,500 from the sale of $953,975 worth of stock in elevent companies. Reagan’s trustees sold the stock to invest in high-yield money-market instruments.
Altogether, Reagan filled 23 pages to report his income, including Schedule F for his 688-acre Rancho del Cielo retreat near Santa Barbara. He reported that the ranch, which he uses mostly for pleasure, earned #3,024 from the sale of 14 head of cattle and $3,350 from grazing land that is leased to a neighbor. Expenses totaled $15,479, including payments for ahired hand ($3,839), repairs on a Jeep ($2,363) and ‘horseshoeing’ ($367). All told, Reagan showed a $9,105 loss on the ranch operations, which saved him roughly $4,500 in federal taxes….
The tax return also gave few glimpses into the candidate’s private life. He listed only $12 in finance charges on credit cards, indicating that he is prompt in paying his bills. He spent almost as much on postage ($2,518) as he did on doctors and dentists ($2,611). He gave only $4,108 to charities in 1979, a fourth of Jimmy Carter’s $15,438 in donations. One other entry confirmed that Reagan is a thorough money manager: Daughter Maureen paid him $481 in interest on a loan….”
On the Sri Lankan election scene
This time, the presidential election campaigning in Sri Lanka has gone American with bells and whistles. The two leading contenders, prime minister Mahinda Rajapakse and the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, have their own websites in English. This is definitely a step towards attracting funding from Sri Lankan expatriates. Both candidates have even brought out campaign books (typical to the form, probably ghost-written). What has been missing until now, from my point of view at least, was some details about the tax payment record of the candidates themselves.
If the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan had done it in 1980 during his presidential campaign, mentioning even (1) payments to his ghost writer, (2) repairs on a jeep, and (3) interest received from a loan to his daughter Maureen, to the tax man, I felt that the two doughty Sri Lankan presidential aspirants should have to stand up and protect Sri Lankan politician’s honor in tax payment. Thus, using the message and comment columns available via their websites, on October 28th, I sent the following requests to both Mahinda Rajapakse and Ranil Wickremesinghe.
“Dear Mahinda: It’s great to see that you have a website in English, to support your candidacy for presidency. You have become Americanized in your political campaign. This is good that you have made up to advance Sri Lankan voters into the 21st century practices. The newsmedia also reported that your thoughts ‘Mahinda Chintana’ been published as a book. I want to know whether like your book, can you be so open with the Sri Lankan voters about your tax payment record for the past five years at least? Thank you very much.”
“Dear Ranil: It’s great to see that you have a website in English, to support your candidacy for presidency. You have become Americanized in your political campaign. This is good that you have made up to advance Sri Lankan voters into the 21st century practices. The newsmedia also reported that your thoughts ‘Politics and Buddhism’ been published as a book. I want to know whether like your book, can you be so open with the Sri Lankan voters about your tax payment record for the past five years at least? Thank you very much.”
For my messages, I received immediately a format acknowledgement delivered from Mahinda Rajapakse’s corner, which stated, “Thank you for sending comments, Sachi Sri Kantha. Your entry has now been added to the www.mahindarajapaksa.com. But, about tax payment details nothing has been heard until now, from both candidates.
Who said that Sri Lanka is a democracy? If so, it is not even quasi-transparent like the American one, where the presidential contenders have to at least level up with the voters by releasing their tax payment records. If Reagan and Carter can do it twenty five years ago, why cannot Rajapakse and Wickremesinghe? As a Tamil, my question is, if both Rajapakse and Wickremesinghe cannot openly provide simple details on their tax payment which they should be doing as loyal citizens, how can one trust that they will come out with a pragmatic solution to the more complex Sinhala-Tamil ethnic problem which have eluded all the past prime ministers and presidents of the island?