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Republican gubernatorial candidate Illinois state Sen. Darren Bailey and his wife, Cindy

Republican gubernatorial candidate Illinois state Sen. Darren Bailey and his wife, Cindy, on June 28, 2022, in Effingham, Ill. Bailey and his wife on Wednesday released 5 years of joint tax returns showing flush and lean years on the farm.

Ashlee Rezin

Darren Bailey’s tax returns show years of feast – and famine – on the farm

Tax returns released Wednesday show Republican gubernatorial nominee Darren Bailey endured major financial ups and downs on his downstate farm during the past five years, including two years of net losses.

Those losses came during the pandemic, but Bailey’s top-earning year in 2018 yielded more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income. That income came on top of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal farm subsidies Bailey and his wife received since 2017.

Bailey’s campaign released five years of tax returns — reversing an earlier decision to keep them private. A day after winning the GOP primary, the downstate farmer told the Sun-Times he would not be releasing any of his returns. He was also asked if he was a millionaire.

“I have farm ground,” Bailey said in June. “So yeah, I guess that’s a fair statement.”

But since that time, Bailey has styled himself publicly as a candidate of the working class, taking every opportunity to criticize the incumbent governor as out of touch with the financial problems of the populace.

On Wednesday, Bailey, also a state senator, released the first two pages of his tax returns for each year. In 2017, the Baileys reported $1,776 in adjusted gross income and no taxable income.

Their adjusted gross income jumped to $211,108 in 2018 — as Darren Bailey was elected to the Illinois House and could count two incomes. Illinois state representatives made $67,836 a year in 2018. The Baileys listed their taxable income at $132,416.

In 2019, the Baileys reported $189,029 in adjusted gross income. Of that, $111,599 was taxable.

The next two years, the Baileys reported negative income on their tax returns. In 2020, when Bailey moved to the Illinois Senate, they reported a deficit of $164,961 and no taxable income. In 2021, the Baileys reported an adjusted gross income deficit of $99,264 and no taxable income.

“Everything Darren Bailey owns is tied up in the land,” campaign spokesman Joe DeBose said of his candidate’s tax filings. “There’s a big difference between a man who built a family farm with his bare hands and a billionaire who inherited a trust fund.”

Darren Bailey and a truck

Republican gubernatorial nominee Darren Bailey arrives at the Illinois State Fair on a tractor for Republicans’ Day in August.

Tina Sfondeles

Bailey has acknowledged farming more than 12,000 acres of downstate farmland, but his campaign would not disclose the actual amount of acreage the Baileys own. Some portion of the total Bailey farms is in partnership with other landowners.

An August report by the USDA showed the average value of Illinois farmland to be $8,900 per acre. Using that math, even a fraction of 12,000 acres would mean land holdings worth millions of dollars for Bailey and his wife.

Darren and Cindy Bailey have been the consistent beneficiaries of federal farm subsidies totaling $3,540,410 between 1995 and 2020, according to the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Environmental Working Group.

Bailey’s decision to release his tax filings sets him apart from his party’s potential 2024 presidential standard bearer. Former President Donald Trump refused to release his tax returns at any point during the 2016 or 2020 presidential campaigns.

Bailey’s decision to release his tax returns also makes him the first candidate in this year’s gubernatorial general election to do so. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker intends to file his 2021 tax returns next month, a campaign spokeswoman said.

Last year, the governor and first lady MK Pritzker reported earning a little over $5.1 million in adjusted gross income in the previous year, but deductions enabled them to whittle down their taxable income to only about $2.2 million.

The Pritzkers paid nearly $760,000 in taxes in 2020 — $230,643 to Illinois and $529,104 in federal taxes, according to documents released in the past by Pritzker’s campaign.

The governor’s net worth as of Tuesday was $3.6 billion, according to Forbes, and increased by approximately $400 million since he took office in 2019.

Pritzker’s campaign offered praise for the governor’s rival for peeling back the curtain on his federal tax obligations but questioned why Bailey withheld the release of his state tax returns for the period.

“We’re glad to see Bailey releasing his federal returns,” Pritzker campaign spokeswoman Natalie Edelstein said. “We look forward to the release of his state returns, as the governor has done every year.”

Tina Sfondeles and Dave McKinney cover Illinois politics and government for the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @TinaSfon and @davemckinney.

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