At first the headline sounded dramatic. “Terrence Wall has not paid state income taxes.” I remember getting a call from a member of a Democratic campaign, who told me the news. It sounded so incredible. It sounded like tax evasion, which is how the Democrats want it to sound like.
But alas, one can avoid state income taxes and not be a tax evader. In Wall’s case, he simply had no income tax liability.
But the press releases keep coming and the blog posts keep publishing. The Democrats are going to try and take this meme as far as it goes. I don’t blame them for it – a tax dodger millionaire is the perfect punching bag for a candidate as squeaky clean as Russ Feingold. But the attack is nevertheless disingenuous, and if handled correctly by the Wall campaign, is liable to backfire on the Dems. The GOP has already responded by saying that Wall and his company pay the state millions of dollars in taxes, and that Wall makes up for the income taxes with other taxes, including charitable contributions.
I think the Democrats could take this talking point a lot further if they used it to criticize the system “in which a millionaire like Terrence Wall pays no income taxes,” rather than insinuating that he is a tax cheat. It wouldn’t look as dirty because it would give state-level Democrats the opportunity to propose policy, rather than simply to slime an opponent. The problem is that Russ Feingold is not a state-level candidate, and the issue is state taxes.
Any thoughts? Will Feingold go after Wall himself?