If Trump wants to get on California’s 2020 ballot, he might need to release his tax returns

For the second time in three years, a California Democrat is trying to force President Donald Trump to release his tax returns.

Under Senate Bill 27, presidential candidates from all parties would need to publicly disclose the last five years of their tax returns if they want to have their name on the state’s primary ballot.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown – who didn’t release his own tax returns – vetoed the same proposal in 2017, warning it “may not be constitutional” and could set a “slippery slope” precedent.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, called Brown’s veto “hogwash” and is re-introducing the bill in hopes Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign it. Newsom has promised to be the first California governor to release his tax returns annually.

McGuire will need two-thirds support from his colleagues, but is confident he’ll get it, given that it passed by similar margins in 2017. The proposal even received support from two former Republican Assembly members, one of whom is now a Democrat.

“If Hillary Clinton had done this, we’d be having the same conversation right now,” McGuire said. “This bill is solely focused on providing voters the information they need to make an educated decision.”

Public opinion polls show the vast majority of people want to see Trump’s tax returns. In the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, 74 percent of American likely voters, including 62 of Republicans, said in a Quinnipiac University poll that Trump should release the information. Nearly three-fourths of adults surveyed after the election in a Washington Post/ABC News poll agreed the president should disclose his tax records.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla supports the proposal, saying in a statement it would “write this vital norm of our democracy into state law.”

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“Candidates who are serious about holding the highest office in the nation should be transparent about their personal financial interests,” Padilla added. “The American people have a right to know about the commander-in-chief’s potential conflicts of interest. For years, candidates for president from both parties released their personal tax returns.”

Despite the public’s desire for candidates to release their tax returns, it remains to be seen whether California can legally force Trump’s hand. If the bill is signed into law in the coming months, McGuire said he would expect a legal challenge from Trump.

On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly said he’d release his tax returns after an IRS audit was completed, even though nothing precludes a president from releasing tax returns while under audit. Former President Richard Nixon disclosed the information as he was being audited when he was in office.

Trump’s tone has shifted bit now that he’s in office, as he’s suggested he wouldn’t release the document during his presidency. In May 2017, he told The Economist, “I might release (the tax returns) after I’m out of office.”

State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, called McGuire’s plan “constitutionally dubious.” He noted that it doesn’t require the same of statewide California candidates.

McGuire said it isn’t necessary for California elected officials to release their tax records since they are already subject to California ethics laws, unlike the president.

The Democratic lawmaker acknowledged California doesn’t have the ability to dictate the terms of a general election, as the national political parties have that power. Still, he’s adamant that states have the right to set the rules for candidates wishing to get their name on the state’s primary ballots.

“California would not be where we’re at today if the president would have upheld 40 years of tradition and released his tax returns,” McGuire said. “We’re here today because the president has something to hide.”

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