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Obamas’ tax returns show a sharp rise in pay

Times Staff Writers

Barack Obama released seven years of tax returns Tuesday, providing a financial profile of a public official whose family income soared eightfold after he signed lucrative book contracts in 2004, following his election to the Senate.

The Obama family’s newfound wealth -- they reported income of $1.65 million in 2005 and nearly $1 million in 2006 -- led the couple to contribute substantially more to charitable causes than they had before. Over two years, the couple gave $27,500 to Trinity United Church of Christ, where their former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., preached fiery and sometimes controversial sermons. The donation was part of $137,622 in charitable donations reported by the couple during the period.

In releasing his 2000 through 2006 returns, Obama continued to challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton to do the same. The “transparency” debate has been continuing between Clinton and Obama, whose finances are simpler and for the most part less controversial than the Clintons’. They made tens of millions of dollars in their book deals and former President Clinton’s speaking and consulting fees since leaving the White House in 2001.

Obama has repeatedly touted his willingness to disclose his tax returns. And in the area of tax returns and federal earmarks, he has been more open than Clinton. But until Tuesday, he has provided only piecemeal release of the returns. Previously he had put his 2006 returns on the Internet but other years had been provided only occasionally to select reporters.

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Clinton said Tuesday that she would soon release her post-White House tax returns.

“I am pleased that Sen. Obama has released his tax returns,” Clinton said Tuesday while campaigning in Pennsylvania. “I think that’s a good first step. Now he should release his records from being in the state Senate and any other information that the public and press need to know from his prior experience.”

The returns released by Obama contained few big surprises, but did recall some noteworthy changes in the family’s financial status through the years.

For example, Michelle Obama’s salary at the University of Chicago Hospitals jumped almost threefold in the year after her husband was elected to the Senate. Her title changed from executive director for community affairs to vice president for community and external affairs -- and her salary jumped from $121,910 in 2004 to $316,962 in 2005, the tax returns show.

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Previous press reports quoted hospital officials saying that Michelle Obama’s duties increased substantially that year and that the amount included a one-time bonus payment. The salary is not out of line with those paid by other university hospitals, hospital officials have said.

Until 2005, the Obamas reported little or no dividend or interest income, despite salaries in excess of $200,000 a year. In addition to Michelle Obama’s salary from the hospital, Barack Obama earned money as a part-time state senator as well as a law school lecturer and lawyer for a Chicago firm.

In his most recent book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Barack Obama describes the financial trouble he faced after losing a 2000 race for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He said that the campaign’s demands “had left me more or less broke,” and he described difficulty renting a car when in Los Angeles for the 2000 Democratic National Convention because his credit card was initially rejected.

The income pattern and the list of interest, dividends and charitable donations changed after his 2004 election, suggesting that the Obamas previously had little capital to spare for savings, investment or charity.

Although the Obamas had more money in 2005 and 2006, their returns show that they did not check off the $3 voluntary donation to the presidential election campaign fund, which helps underwrite the costs of campaigns. Obama has said in the past that he supports public financing of presidential campaigns.

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chuck.neubauer@latimes.com

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

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