GOP candidate for California governor John Cox shares his tax returns — partially

Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, center, speaks to reporters alongside his wife, Sarah Cox, in San Diego in June.
(Gregory Bull / AP)

Republican candidate for governor John Cox earned more than $2.1 million in 2016 and 2017, mostly from investments in apartment buildings in the Midwest, according to abbreviated portions of his tax returns released by his campaign Friday.

Cox’s disclosure came more than a year after his rival in the governor’s race, Democrat Gavin Newsom, released six years of his federal and state tax returns. The Rancho Santa Fe businessman released only the summary pages of his returns, along with forms outlining his tax deductions and interest and dividend income. He withheld tax information for the string of business partnerships that generate most of his income.

Cox campaign strategist Tim Rosales said the selective release of Cox’s tax returns was done to protect the financial privacy of other investors in those partnerships. The Republican decided to release just two years of returns because, unlike Newsom, Cox is a private citizen who does not hold elected office, and was not a candidate until 2017, Rosales said.


“This is a full look at what he makes and what he pays,” Rosales said.

The three major Democratic gubernatorial candidates who did not advance to the general election — former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Treasurer John Chiang and former state schools chief Delaine Eastin — also made their tax returns available to reporters before the June 5 primary.

Newsom provided largely unabridged copies of his tax returns for review, including financial details of his partnerships in wineries, restaurants, hotels and other hospitality businesses.

Still, Cox provided more information than did Gov. Jerry Brown, who declined to release his tax returns during his last two gubernatorial campaigns in 2010 and 2014.

His Republican opponents in those races, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman in 2010 and former U.S. Treasury Department official Neel Kashkari in 2014, also declined. Former Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson all permitted reporters to inspect their tax filings.

Meet John Cox and Gavin Newsom, the candidates for California governor »


Cox allowed the Times to review, but not photocopy, the tax returns in Rosales’ Sacramento office. The Times made multiple requests to review Cox’s filings, starting in September 2017.

According to his tax returns, Cox reported an adjusted gross income of $1.86 million in 2017, with $1.5 million coming from investments in real estate and business partnerships. The remainder came largely from dividends and interest earnings on investments.

According to his state financial disclosure report filed in March, Cox held stocks and bonds valued between $9 million and $93 million. (Candidates are required to disclose the fair market value of their investments, but only within broad ranges).

Cox filed jointly with his wife, Sarah Cox. The couple live in northern San Diego County with their 13-year-old daughter. Cox also has three adult daughters from a previous marriage.

In 2017, the couple paid $407,113 in federal taxes and $117,500 in state taxes. They donated more than $52,000 to charity and also claimed a deduction for $237,900 in charitable contributions they made prior to 2017.

In his 2016 returns, Cox’s financial picture was less rosy. He reported a loss of $106,216 on his real estate investments and partnerships, and an adjusted gross income of $252,549. Cox and his wife paid $50,532 in federal taxes. His state tax return for 2016 was not made available to The Times. The Coxes donated more than $164,000 to charity that year.

Cox finished second behind Newsom in the June 5 primary and cites his business expertise as a key credential in his campaign for governor.

“Businesspeople have been elected to office as governor all across this nation to clean up the messes that the politicians have made,” he said to his supporters during an election night party in San Diego.

An attorney and certified public accountant, Cox built a successful business enterprise outside Chicago, where he spent most of his life before moving to California full time in 2011. He bought his house in San Diego County years before. His law firm, Cox, Oakes & Associates, remains based in Schaumburg, Ill. On his tax returns, Cox reported a $50,000 annual salary, which Rosales said comes from the firm.

The Republican candidate also has investments in more than a dozen limited partnerships that either own or manage apartment complexes in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Coverage of California politics »

Times staff writer Mini Racker contributed to this report.

Twitter: @philwillon

Updates on California politics