By BOB ANEZ/Associated Press Writer
HELENA - Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Brown released his income tax records for the past 11 years Monday and challenged Democrat Brian Schweitzer to do the same, saying he was doing his opponent a favor.
Brown said he was giving Schweitzer an opportunity to set the record straight on his financial history after Schweitzer assailed a GOP poll earlier this month as spreading lies about him.
''I'm trying to make it as easy as possible for him to clear himself ... of whatever people may suspect,'' Brown said, adding that he personally does not believe Schweitzer has anything to hide.
''Everybody is entitled to be presumed to be innocent,'' he said.
Schweitzer called Brown's tactic an ''outrageous'' attempt to use an illegitimate poll to attack him.
''He's asking me to prove I am not involved in every nefarious activity alleged in a push poll,'' Schweitzer said. ''It sounds to me like character assassination.''
He said he will not release his income tax records unless he is elected governor and then only for the years he would be a public employee. Schweitzer noted that Brown's tax returns were based on salaries he and his wife received as public employees during most of the past 11 years so their income was a matter of public record.
Since the early 1990s, Brown has worked for the University of Montana, Montana university system and as secretary of state. Susan Brown was a public school teacher in Whitefish.
The poll Schweitzer referred to was done by the Republican Governors' Association, and Lee Newspapers of Montana reported it contained questions that Schweitzer said suggested he was a terrorist and a tax dodger.
He said all the allegations in the poll were lies.
Release of Schweitzer's tax records would address only those poll questions hinting that Schweitzer had failed to pay some property taxes and had no personal income for the past four years.
Still, Brown said Schweitzer could resolve any questions raised in the poll by releasing his tax returns and work history. ''The best thing to do if he wants to clear the record is just to make the record clear,'' he said.
Schweitzer said Brown was allowing others to make up accusations about him and then challenging his opponent to discredit the claims.
''He is using the lies told about me and demanding I prove they are not true,'' Schweitzer said.
He said he will provide employment records dating to the time he was in college, and supply all articles of incorporation for any business he has been involved in operating. He said his property tax records, like those of all Montanans, are public.
Brown's tax records showed that his and his wife's total annual income increased 80 percent, from $70,414 to $126,948 between 1993 and 2003. At the same time, their taxable income increased by 95 percent, from $40,578 to $79,297
On average, the Browns' taxable income was 66 percent of their total income.
Brown's release of his tax files came just a day after a new poll showed Schweitzer slightly ahead, 45 percent to 41 percent. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.