Paul Caron has Barack and Michelle Obama’s tax returns on his website (tip to Instapundit). The first thing that jumped out is that in some years Barack received no speaking fees or honoraria. Apparently, as an Illinois state legislator through 2004, Barack was prohibited from taking honoraria for speaking under the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act.
But what about Barack Obama’s 2000 and 2002 tax returns?
2000: On his 2000 Schedule C-EZ, Barack reported that he received $16,500 as a “Foundation director/Educational speaker.”
2001: On his 2001 Schedule C-EZ, Barack reported $98,158 from a Chicago law firm, Miner, Barnhill, for “Legal services/attorney” (and nothing for speaking).
2002: On his 2002 Schedule C, Barack reported $34,491 for “LEGAL SERVCES / SPEAKING FEES.”
These “speaking fees” are in addition to the amounts that Barack was paid as an employee, a lecturer at the University of Chicago, reported on the first page of his 1040s.
The Illinois Governmental Ethics Act (apparently last changed in 1995) provides:
(5 ILCS 420/2-110)
Sec. 2-110. Honoraria.
(a) No member of the General Assembly shall accept any honorarium.
(b) As used in this Section:
"Honorarium" means a payment of money to a member of the General Assembly for an appearance or speech, excluding any actual and necessary travel expenses incurred by the member of the General Assembly (and one relative) to the extent that those expenses are paid by any other person. "Honorarium" does not include (i) cash payments made on behalf of a member of the General Assembly to an organization described under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, (ii) an agent's fee or commission, or (iii) funds reported under Article 9 of the Election Code [i.e., campaign contributions].
"Travel expense" means the reasonable cost of transportation and the reasonable cost of lodging and meals incurred while a person is away from his or her residence or principal place of employment.
(c) Any honorarium or honoraria accepted in violation of this Section shall be surrendered to the State Treasurer and deposited into the General Revenue Fund. (Source: P.A. 89 405, eff. 11-8-1995.)
Did Barack Obama violate this over-restrictive Illinois ethics act? Without knowing the precise situations and sources of these “SPEAKING FEES” in 2002 and payments as an “Educational speaker” in 2000, it is impossible to be certain whether any of this compensation meets the statutory definition of “a payment of money to a member of the General Assembly for an appearance or speech.”
Also, I wonder whether Obama has rectified this problem in some way that I have not heard about. If not, I wonder whether Barack or his campaign has some explanation for accepting “SPEAKING FEES” or whether at this late date he should “surrender” several thousand dollars to the Illinois State Treasurer.
(Of course, my quick analysis assumes that Obama received no speaking fees besides those reported on his 2000 and 2002 tax returns — and thus has paid all the federal taxes he owed.)
UPDATE: More on the Obama Tax Returns:
In the comments below, ReaderY notes just how silly such ethics statutes are:
On the speaking fees issue only, Winston Churchill didn't inherit the family wealth and for many years had to speak and write for his living, despite being a Member of Parliament. At the time this was not considered a dishonorable way to live. Are we now living in an age where Winston Churchill's way of life would be considered unethical?
And in part we have John McCain to thank for our current over-restrictive federal regime governing campaign ethics.