President Donald Trump could face a new hurdle as he seeks re-election in 2020, as a slew of states are currently considering legislation that would require candidates for president and vice president to release their tax returns in order to appear on the states’ ballots.
A total of 18 states are mulling over the change, spearheaded largely by Democrats but with some bipartisan support, and it is no secret that Trump’s refusal to release his own tax returns has inspired the movement.
According to The Washington Post, supporters of such bills say the goal is “increasing transparency and returning to the ‘norm’ of candidates releasing their financial records,” but the fact that some Democratic lawmakers pushing the legislation have conceded it is specifically about Trump, raising legal and political concerns.
Into his third year in office, Trump still has not released his tax returns, claiming he cannot do so while he is under audit by the IRS, but the Post noted — as has the IRS itself — that an audit does not prohibit the president from going public with his returns.
This bucking of modern norms has irked Democrats from the very beginning of Trump’s presidential campaign, and after reports have trickled out detailing some of the president’s business dealings with Russia, many believe Americans might not have elected him had he provided such information before ballots were cast in 2016.
New Jersey state Senator Loretta Weinberg (D) noted this issue as the state considered a bill that would require candidates to furnish tax returns:
“It is so obvious with this president that had voters known some of what seem to be his business interests, he may not have been elected president,” she told the Courier-Post.
The bill Weinberg co-sponsored was approved by New Jersey’s Senate last month, the Post noted.
But not everyone — including some Democrats — agrees that states can or should pursue such rules for candidates.
Former California governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, vetoed such a bill when it hit his desk, saying he was unsure the measure was constitutional.
“Second, it sets a ‘slippery slope’ precedent,” Brown said. “Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?”
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Republican, vetoed similar legislation in 2017, calling the bill “politics at its worst,” but the Post noted that both states now have new governors and their legislatures are considering such legislation once again.
For now, it remains unclear whether state requirements for releasing tax returns in order to gain entry to the ballot could withstand a challenge in court — but that is not stopping lawmakers from trying.