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Obama's tax returns, rising fortunes

From NBC's Jim Popkin
The tax returns for Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, offer insights into the power couple's rising fortunes as Obama became a U.S. Senator and then a potential presidential candidate.

Obama today released his tax returns from 2000 to 2006. They show a steep increase in income. In 2000, for example, the Obamas' combined income was $240,505. That includes Sen. Obama's salary as a young state senator in Illinois, his fees ($16,500) as a "foundation director/educational speaker" and Michelle Obama's salary as a hospital administrator.

In 2006, by contrast, the Obamas' combined income was $983,826. Obama had become a U.S. Senator by then, making about $165,000 a year, and his wife's income at the University of Chicago hospitals had climbed sharply to about $265,000 a year. Sen. Obama's book-writing career also had become profitable, earning him $551,240 in author fees in tax year 2006 alone. Mrs. Obama also made $51,200 that year, as director of TreeHouse Foods, "a food manufacturer servicing primarily the retail grocery and foodservice chains," according to the company's website.

The Obamas' best financial year came in 2005, when their total combined income was $1.6 million. That included $1.2 million in author fees for Sen. Obama's best-selling books. Michelle Obama's salary that year was $316,962 plus another $45,000 for her role as director of TreeHouse Foods.

The Obamas became more charitable as their incomes grew. In 2000, the couple gave $2,350 to charity, or about 1 percent of their gross income. In 2006, they donated $60,307 to charities, or about 6 percent of their gross income. In 2005, the Obamas list a $5,000 donation to their church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where the controversial Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., was Sen. Obama's pastor. If Sen. Obama tithed more regularly to the church, there's no record of it in these tax returns.

The tax returns also don't appear to shed any new light on the Obamas' controversial purchase of their Chicago home in 2005. They bought their home that year for $1.65 million, at the same time that the wife of indicted Chicago businessman and campaign contributor Tony Rezko bought the adjoining lot for $625,000. Critics have said that Obama could not have bought the house unless the Rezkos bought the joining lot, and Obama has apologized for the "bone-headed mistake" of getting involved with a campaign contributor who at the time was under scrutiny for alleged political corruption.

The Obamas don't appear to have substantial stock holdings. Their 2005 return, for example, lists modest dividends for UBS, JP Morgan Chase and Northern Trust Bank. It also lists a $2,072 gain for the sale of Biopharma stock and a $15,208 loss for the sale of SkyTerra Communications stock.

While the Obama tax documents released today cover the basics for the seven-year period, there are many supporting documents that have not been released. Sen. Hillary Clinton has yet to release her tax records at all, but a spokesman says they will be made public in the next few weeks.