when i add the following:

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/loose.dtd">

to the code the background colors for tables no longer show up and are transparent instead. even with <table style="background-color: ffffff;"> or <td style="background-color: ffffff;"> it is still transparent. I cannot figure out why this is happening. without the doctype the background colors do work.

You're missing the # in front of those examples, it should be background-color: #ffffff;.

thank you, that was the problem.