N.J. Bill Would Force Release of Candidate Tax Returns

Daily Tax Report: State provides authoritative coverage of state and local tax developments across the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, tracking legislative and regulatory updates,...

By Leslie A. Pappas

U.S. presidential candidates would need to disclose five years of federal income tax returns to appear on the ballot in New Jersey under a bill winding its way through the Legislature.

New Jersey joins more than 20 states considering bills to require presidential candidates to release their tax returns before a general election, prompted by President Donald Trump’s refusal to do so last year. Yet even if New Jersey’s heavily Democratic legislature can get the bill past Gov. Chris Christie (R), a Trump ally, the measure could face legal challenges.

“This seems to me to be equivalent to a state adding a qualification to being president other than those contained in the Constitution,” Ronald K. Chen, co-dean of Rutgers Law School in Newark, N.J., told Bloomberg BNA in an email.

Senate Bill No. 3048, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Loretta Weinberg, Shirley K. Turner and Linda R. Greenstein, says the names of candidates for president or vice president wouldn’t be printed on the ballot unless the candidates file copies of their five most recent federal income tax returns with the state’s elections boards no later than 50 days before the general election.

Approved by the Senate 24-11 on March 13, the bill would also forbid the state’s Electoral College electors from voting for candidates who haven’t disclosed their federal income tax returns. The Division of Elections would post the tax returns on its website. The bill allows candidates to redact parts of the returns in consultation with the attorney general.

Constitutional Concerns

New Jersey is one of 23 states considering such legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Those states include: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont.

Chen told Bloomberg BNA that the proposals could go against the federal constitution. He cited U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thorton, 514 U.S. 779 (1995), which struck down term limits on Congress members imposed by a state legislature.

Allowing each state to add requirements, whether “tax returns, birth certificates, blood tests, whatever,” would result in what the U.S. Supreme Court called “a patchwork of state qualifications” that would interfere with “the uniformity and national character that the framers sought to ensure,” Chen said.

The New Jersey Assembly could vote on a companion bill, A. 4520, as soon as March 17.

To contact the reporter on this story: Leslie A. Pappas in Philadelphia at LPappas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ryan C. Tuck at rtuck@bna.com

For More Information

Senate Bill No. 3048 is at http://src.bna.com/mWJ.

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