Over the issue of her financial disclosure, Geraldine Ferraro is finding out just how hot the heat in the kitchen of presidential politics can be. Given the realities of running for high office today, nothing less than full disclosure will do. That includes making public her husband's tax returns as well as her own, when she submits her financial statement to the Federal Election Commission Aug. 20, one month after her nomination. Federal election law does not require her husband's tax-form release. Neither, strictly speaking, does Ms. Ferraro's July 24 promise to make public both tax forms from the Ferraro-Zaccaro household itself have to be binding on Mr. Zaccaro.
The standards for office-seekers today, as a practical matter, go beyond the requirements of the law. A spouse's financial privacy is part of what a household sacrifices when a member of the family runs for high public office. Experience shows in such cases that once the hunt for disclosure is on, with the news media and opponents in full pursuit, only full candor can end the chase.
For the moment, the need is to get on with the election campaign itself. To tie up the Mondale-Ferraro ticket another week, through the Republican convention and beyond, would turn attention from what was shaping up as an interesting contest. The Democratic Party was attempting once again to compete in the political mainstream, avoiding the extremes on domestic and foreign policy. On social issues, civil rights, tax policy, and foreign policy, Republicans and Democrats were heading toward a center-ground debate that could invite reasonable American voters to go either way.
Some reservations should be voiced. A spouse's privacy is not to be disregarded lightly. For a woman in the marriage to be the White House office-seeker is new ground; the norms for the husband should be the same as when the husband is the office-seeker, but this is just now being established with the Ferraro nomination. Political families can avoid the tax-disclosure situation by putting their holdings in a blind trust. Women heading into politics may want to think about insulating their financial positions from their husbands', to avoid such situations.
Ms. Ferraro does hold a position in her husband's real estate firm; this connection is already under review by the House Ethics Committee, since she had claimed an exemption from disclosing Zaccaro's income on grounds of having no role in his business affairs. In due course, her right to the exemption will be resolved, although hardly in time for this campaign. Zaccaro's business holdings will also come under unrelenting review.
The price in privacy exacted from those seeking high office, and from their families, is high. This is one of the reasons many qualified people do not seek office.
But the responsibilities and rewards of elective office are high, too. The Ferraro-Zaccaro decision on disclosing their finances will say a lot about how they value personal privacy against the privilege of public reward.