Trump’s Lack of Tax Returns Inspires California Bill

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By Laura Mahoney

Presidential candidates who don’t release their tax returns would be blocked from appearing on the California primary ballot under a bill the Senate passed late May 31.

Senators approved S.B. 149 by Sen. Mike McGuire (D) with a vote of 27-13, sending the bill to the Assembly for consideration. The bill passed on party lines after Democrats rejected proposed amendments from Sen. Joel Anderson (R) to also require California elected officials to disclose their tax returns and their birth certificates to appear on the ballot. Democrats hold 27 of the 40 Senate seats.

McGuire said on the Senate floor that President Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns leaves Americans without information about his potential conflicts of interest or how his proposed tax policy changes will help enrich himself. He said states can provide a check and balance to federal policy through their authority to determine access to their ballots.

“This bill is not about one specific person or political party. It’s much bigger than that,” he said. “This legislation will help make transparency great again.”

More than 20 states have introduced legislation this year to compel the disclosure of tax documents from presidential candidates. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed New Jersey’s bill on the matter May 1. New Jersey is the only state to date where a bill has passed both chambers.

Amendments Tabled

McGuire said the measure would apply to the primary ballot because voters should have access to the information early in the election cycle.

Anderson offered two sets of amendments he called “encouraging,” but Democrats rejected them. The first would have added the California governor, constitutional officers, and legislators to the list of candidates that must disclose their tax returns to appear on the primary ballot.

“If you don’t think it’s important for us, then this looks like grandstanding and really isn’t about good government,” he said.

Democrats voted to table the amendment, as well as a second one Anderson offered to require the same list of state candidates to disclose their birth certificates to be eligible for the ballot.

“This is kind of a mockery of a bill, so I thought you’d like a mockery of an amendment,” Anderson said. “I urge that you accept this amendment since we’re just running it up the flagpole for press anyway.”

Court Challenge Likely

McGuire criticized Anderson for invoking the controversy about President Obama’s birth certificate and questions about his citizenship that President Trump raised before he ran for president.

“It is astounding to me that someone would align themselves with one of the most racist attacks on a sitting president in U.S. history,” McGuire said.

Under the bill, candidates for U.S. president would have to file their income tax returns for the most recent five years with the California Secretary of State, who would redact them for privacy purposes before releasing them to the public.

According to a legislative staff analysis, the bill is likely to be challenged in court on constitutional grounds if it becomes law, but “appears to be constitutional.”

The Assembly can consider the bill after June 5 and it must pass by Sept. 15 to reach the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). He hasn’t taken a position on the bill.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Mahoney in Sacramento, Calif. at LMahoney@bna.com

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

For More Information

More information about S.B. 149 is at http://src.bna.com/pqV.

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