The California Legislature is trying again to force presidential candidates to publicly disclose their tax returns, hoping a new Democratic governor known for his clashes with President Donald Trump won’t block them this time.
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.
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.
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.
All 10 Republicans in the state Senate voted against the bill, arguing it is unconstitutional.
“I get that playing the resistance card may be good politics for the majority party, but I would submit that it’s bad policy for Californians,” Sen. Brian Jones said.
McGuire said the office of the legislative counsel has some concerns about the constitutionality of the bill, but he noted the chief ethics lawyers for former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama say the bill is constitutional.
“We can all debate on the floor about the constitutionality of this bill,” McGuire said before the vote. “But we also have to look at what makes our democracy strong. The foundation of any successful government is transparency.”