Ferraro's finances: pluses and minuses

It may yet prove difficult for Geraldine Ferraro to recover the luster she had before the start of the debate over her finances and those of her husband. But after the early days of stumbling, she has registered definite gains the last few days - by her able handling of the issue in a difficult press conference, and by having released so much tax information. We now know a good deal more about the way the Democratic vice-presidential nominee responds under pressure, and it is favorable.

Yet still in question is the judgment both of Ms. Ferraro and of Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale and his staff. Before selecting her they should have known the basic structure of her and her husband's financial position, any vulnerabilities, and the pertinent details. As a lawyer, and as a public official seeking the nation's second-highest office, Ms. Ferraro can be expected to adhere to the most exacting standards.

One issue is not involved: the gains for women that are represented by the Ferraro selection. Ms. Ferraro's troubles need have no bearing on the prospects of having a woman on the presidential ticket of one or both parties in 1988 or thereafter.

The financial information released by Ms. Ferraro and her husband, John Zaccaro, puts to rest the rumors that, in their personal returns, they might have underpaid taxes by using shelters.

But several financial questions remain. One concerns how it was possible for the couple to have omitted a $62,000 capital gain in income from their 1978 taxes, for which they have now paid $53,000 in back taxes and interest. The mistake is attributed to their accountant.

Another issue: the legitimacy of Ms. Ferraro's past claims that she was exempt from filing, as a member of the House of Representatives, a detailed accounting of her spouse's finances. She had claimed exemption on grounds that she neither knew about his business nor benefited from it. But information they have now released shows that she gained income from his real estate firm in three of the past four years, was a one-third owner of it, and was its vice-president and a director.

Ms. Ferraro can still file an amended statement, but the House Rules Committee should indeed look into the propriety of her disclosures, as it did recently in the case of Rep. George Hansen.

One issue left untouched by the financial information: the funding of the first Ferraro congressional campaign by a $130,000 loan from Mr. Zaccaro, subsequently ruled illegal by the Federal Election Commission. She repaid the loan primarily by selling property to a third party, from whom Mr. Zaccaro shortly thereafter purchased it.

Ahead lies at least a few days of evaluation by the public and the Mondale-Ferraro campaign of the effect of such disclosures on her candidacy. Fairness requires an unrushed evaluation.

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