Can a state require presidential candidates to reveal their tax returns to qualify for the ballot? California legislators tried it once, but Jerry Brown vetoed it two years ago, noting that it was likely unconstitutional. That didn’t stop state senators from passing it again, and this time they hope Gavin Newsom wants to pick a fight with Donald Trump:
The California Legislature is trying again to force presidential candidates to publicly disclose their tax returns, hoping a new Democratic governor known for his clashes with President Donald Trump won’t block them this time.
The state Senate voted 27-10 on Thursday to require anyone appearing on the state’s presidential primary ballot to publicly release five years’ worth of income tax returns. The proposal is in response to Trump, who bucked 40 years of tradition by refusing to release his tax returns prior to his election in 2016.
California’s presidential primary is scheduled for March 3. If the bill becomes law, Trump could not appear on the state’s primary ballot without filing his tax returns with the California secretary of state.
“We believe that President Trump, if he truly doesn’t have anything to hide, should step up and release his tax returns,” said Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat from Healdsburg and the co-author of the bill along with Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat.
Why stop there? If politicians have nothing to hide, they should submit their DNA to be checked against CODIS, too. And for that matter, they should also publish their bank statements and their college records, too. It’s for the children!
Newsom’s playing coy so far as to whether he’ll sign the bill if it comes out of the assembly. His office told the media yesterday that he’d evaluate the bill “on its own merits,” which is governor-speak for I’m keeping all my options open. Brown was correct the first time, though. Not only is it an unconstitutional infringement by a state to apply a qualification on a federal office outside of that already laid out in the Constitution, it violates important privacy laws regarding tax returns and also runs aground on the 4th Amendment and unreasonable search and seizure.
It’s one thing for politicians to voluntarily disclose their tax returns to the public, or even to use peer pressure to get them to do it. It’s quite another to require it as a matter of law to access the political system. Under US law (26 USC 6103), governments can’t compel those releases unless necessary for either official investigations or review of IRS operations and practices, and even then not publicly at all. Even if candidates submitted them to the state for review, the law clearly states that “no officer or employee of the any State” could release that information to the general public. And if the secretary of state can’t release them publicly — not with 26 USC 6103 — then what’s the point?
And if we can force politicians by law to release their tax returns to access government positions, who’s next? Teachers? Firefighters? Judges?
Basically, it’s a stunt by California Democrats hoping to give the party’s eventual nominee a propaganda boost. Trump and the RNC will have to challenge this law if the assembly passes it and Newsom signs it, yet another reminder that Trump still refuses to provide transparency on his tax returns. Even if they lose in court, Democrats will get miles and miles of (relatively) free publicity to damage Trump.