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Obama’s tax day promise: Incomes taxes will get simpler

The first family released its 2008 federal tax return Wednesday, showing total household income dropping to about $2.7 million from $4.2 million the previous year.

Many Americans had a bad financial year, but President Obama continued to record hefty earnings from the sales of his two books, which showed a net profit of $2.5 million, according to a copy of Barack and Michelle Obama’s 2008 federal tax return. The White House released the presidential and vice presidential tax returns Wednesday, the deadline for federal tax filing.

The Obamas paid $855,323 in federal taxes, and made a total of $172,050 in contributions to 37 charities. Their largest gifts were $25,000 each to the United Negro College Fund and the relief organization CARE.

“The president sold a lot of books last year, no doubt, and paid a hefty amount in federal income tax,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

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A year ago, then-President George W. Bush reported taxable income of $719,274 for the 2007 tax year. He and Laura Bush paid $221,635 in federal income taxes that year.

Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill, meanwhile, had a total household income of $269,256 from a U.S. Senate salary, her teaching income and royalties from the audio rights to a book. They paid $46,952 in federal income taxes and donated $1,885 to charity, a total the White House said did not include additional donations not claimed on their tax return.

As president, Obama is paid an annual salary of $400,000. Before entering the White House, he received $139,204 in salary as a U.S. senator. Michelle Obama collected a salary of $62,709 for her part-time work as a vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

But the first family’s personal wealth soared in recent years, following a trajectory similar to Obama’s rapid political rise. Their annual household income fluctuated around $250,000 in the years before his 2004 election to the U.S. Senate and the subsequent book royalties and advances, which started rolling in during 2005. But before entering the Senate, Obama signed two book deals worth nearly $2.3 million.

He received about $1.2 million of the book money in 2005, which helped the couple afford their purchase that year of a $1.65-million house in Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood.

The Obamas have only recently dug deeply into their own pockets to support charitable causes. In 2002, the year before Obama launched his U.S. Senate campaign, the couple reported income of $259,394 and $1,050 in deductions for gifts to charity, below the national average of $1,872 that year.

One entity the Obamas did not report donating to for 2008 was Trinity United Church of Christ, where fiery sermons and controversial statements by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. ultimately resulted in the family formally leaving the South Side Chicago church in May 2008. In 2007, they gave $26,270 to the church.

The Obamas did contribute $6 to the federal fund that provides public financing for presidential campaigns, a program the Democratic victor bypassed himself. The couple paid $77,153 in Illinois income taxes and spent $47,488 on tuition for their two daughters at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

From 1997 through 2004, Obama earned dual paychecks for his work as a state lawmaker and as a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.

Over the same period, Michelle Obama worked first for the University of Chicago and then for the University of Chicago Hospitals. Their household income was augmented in most years by thousands of dollars that he earned practicing law, giving speeches and serving as a director of charitable foundations.

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mccormickj@tribune.com

Andrew Zajac in our Washington bureau contributed to this report.


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