The California Legislature is attempting to force presidential candidates to publicly disclose their tax returns — a move that could bar President Donald Trump from appearing on the state’s primary ballot if he does not make the documents public.
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.
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The Legislature passed a nearly identical bill in 2017, only to have it vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, telling lawmakers he was concerned the law was unconstitutional. Brown, a Democrat, refused to release his tax returns while in office.
He left office in January and was replaced by Gavin Newsom, who has released his tax returns and embraced his role as a national “resistance” leader to Trump and his policies.
Newsom’s office didn’t say whether he’d sign it. If the bill reaches his desk, “it would be evaluated on its own merits,” spokesman Brian Ferguson said.
McGuire said he has had “initial discussions” with the Newsom administration about the proposal.
“I never want to put words into his mouth, but here’s what I’ll say: Gov. Newsom has led by example,” by releasing his own tax returns, McGuire said.
The bill would also apply to the more than a dozen candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. But many of them have already released their tax returns. They include California Sen. Kamala Harris and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who released his tax returns last month after refusing to do so in 2016.
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Candidates would have to submit tax returns to the secretary of state’s office, which would work with the candidates to redact some information before posting the returns online. The bill echoes similar legislation being considered in Illinois, Washington and New Jersey.
In New York, Democrats have examined multiple approaches in hopes of helping release Trump’s tax returns, including bills requiring officials to release tax returns to appear on the ballot. State lawmakers last month introduced a bill that would allow the state to release Trump’s state tax returns if any of three congressional committees — the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation — ask for the documents.
Trump is a resident of New York and does much of his business in the state.
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All of the bills come as Democrats in Washington continue to fight for access to Trump’s returns.
Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal officially requested six years of the president’s tax returns last month from the IRS but it hasn’t been easy. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who also oversees the IRS, has missed two deadlines, imposed by Neal, to hand over the documents and instead said he would wait for the Justice Department to weigh in on the legality before making a decision.
In his latest letter last month to Neal, Mnuchin detailed both the constitutional concerns and his department’s worries with releasing the president’s financial information. He also accused Democrats of attempting to skirt the law in order to obtain the documents, something they have been after since even before Trump was elected.