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Thursday, Jul 04 2013 01:00 AM

Senate rivals, show voters your tax filings

By The Bakersfield Californian

Among the several negatives associated with special elections -- low voter turnout and additional taxpayer burden, to name two -- there's this: financial disclosure deadlines can become jumbled and hurried. As a result, the public doesn't always have the same access to candidates' income sources and business associations that it typically has in regularly scheduled elections. And that's significant because those associations tend to reflect candidates' priorities and allegiances.

The issue is especially relevant in the race for the state senate's vacant 16th District seat between Democrat Leticia Perez and Republican Andy Vidak. We know relatively little about these candidates: Vidak has never held elective office and has therefore largely avoided the public scrutiny that comes with the deal. Perez's situation isn't much better: The Fifth District Supervisor had never sought public office before she was elected to her seat in county government just last November.

Now there's this. Over the course of the campaign, Vidak, a cherry farmer from Hanford, has referenced two businesses associations that don't appear on his Statement of Economic Interest, or 700 form, and he hasn't yet clarified the discrepancy. Vidak's 700 form doesn't list any investments, income or assets, or real property interests from a cattle ranch in Tulare County, which is referenced on his campaign website, or a lettuce-cooling operation, which he mentioned in a debate with Perez on June 29.

Perez, naturally, has called him out on it.

We'll call Vidak out on it, too -- and while we're at it we'll call out Perez. Given the shortness of time -- the election is less than three weeks away -- and the dearth of financial background on these potential state senators, we call upon Vidak and Perez to provide copies of their tax returns for the past three years. Campaign finance law does not require the candidates to do so, but voters deserve to know more than has been made public.

We should know where Perez's full economic interests lie -- as well of those of her husband, minister and nonprofit director Fernando Jara.

Vidak's disclosure issues are especially deserving of clarification. Since we have nothing but his word about his experience, we have to ask: Did he intentionally hide some of his income and business ties or did he simply get sloppy and careless with the required paperwork? Or are we missing something?

Vidak says he made no money on his cattle operation, so he "dissolved" the corporation. But the state says he failed to settle up on his taxes first. Everyone, even people who owe no taxes, file tax returns. And a business that shows a loss would logically file returns to get beneficial write-offs. (As an aside, Vidak might also explain why his cherry ranch doesn't have a Kings County business license.)

Voters can forgive oversights and misunderstandings, but they deserve to be reassured that that's all these were. When one of Vidak's primary claims to fame is that he is a successful farmer, voters are entitled to see some concrete evidence of that.

So we call upon both candidates to release their federal and state tax filings for the past three years. Considering these recent questions and in view of the shortness of the campaign, voters need these disclosures quickly.

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