Although the U.S. president is one of the most visible people in the country, the president's finances have often been closely guarded. But after Richard Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, pleaded no contest in 1973 to tax evasion, the public became increasingly interested in financial disclosures from the president's office.
Since the 1976 election, presidential candidates have released at least one year of tax returns. After winning that election, Jimmy Carter then set the precedent for all sitting presidents and vice presidents to release their returns each year. Since 1984, the standard for challengers to an incumbent president has been to disclose at least two years of returns, if not significantly more.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said he will meet this two-year standard. But 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain is the only other candidate to release just two years of returns in the last 34 years. Bob Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, set the tax-release record, disclosing 29 years of returns during his run for the White House.
Barack Obama, speaking here at a rally during the 2008 presidential election, released his tax returns dating back to 2000 during the 2008 Democratic primaries. His returns showed that Obama took in more than $1 million in 2005, when his memoir was reissued.(UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch)
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., released two years of tax returns in April 2008, a month after Obama did. While vetting vice presidential candidates, McCain asked for 23 years of tax returns from Mitt Romney. Those returns were never released to the public.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Then-presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., released five years of tax returns. Opponents pressed for the returns after accusing his wealthy wife of secretly funding Kerry's campaign. His wife, despite pressure, declined to release her personal tax returns. Kerry had made it a practice of disclosing five years of returns for each of his previous Senate campaigns to local press.(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
George W. Bush released tax returns dating back to 1994—his first year as Texas governor—during his successful 2000 run for president. Bush's 1998 returns showed a $15 million profit from the sale of his shares in the Texas Rangers.(HILLERY SMITH GARRISON/AP)
Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., set the record for tax transparency in the 1996 presidential election, releasing three decades' worth of returns. The forms showed that Dole had collected $25,000 from an individual retirement account in 1994, despite being an active senator, because he automatically started receiving benefits after turning 71.(Richard A. Bloom)
Bill Clinton, seen here giving a speech in 1992, released 12 years of tax returns during the 1992 presidential election. The returns revealed Hillary Rodham Clinton's salary as a law-firm partner was nearly triple Clinton's as Arkansas governor.(AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Former President George H.W. Bush shakes hands with his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, during the 1988 presidential election. Dukakis, proud of his simple and frugal lifestyle, released six years of tax returns during the election. The documents showed he had almost no investments, but had saved and inherited about $500,000.(AP Photo/Lennox McLendon, File)
1980 was the first election where a challenger to the presidential incumbent, in this case Republican Ronald Reagan, was pressured to release tax returns. Then-President Jimmy Carter had disclosed his returns each year while in office. Reagan released his 1979 taxes, showing over $500,000 in income. Reagan paid not a single dollar in taxes in 1970, but never fully explained why.
Both Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter and Republican incumbent Gerald Ford released their 1975 tax returns during the 1976 presidential election. Ford's returns showed he only had $1,230 in the bank, despite being president. Ford attributed his paltry savings to travel expenses and having four children in college at the time.(AP Photo/File)