Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns was a controversial issue for many during the election. Now some blue state legislators are proposing a “TRUMP” law for ballot access in future elections. A proposed law in New York is actually named the “Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public” Act, the TRUMP Act for short.
According to the Washington Post, lawmakers in California, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts and Maine will introduce bills that require candidates to release their tax returns to appear on ballots in their states. The proposal is obviously directed at President-elect Donald Trump, who said in 2014 that he would release his tax returns if he ran for president, but failed to do so during the campaign.
Although not required, presidential candidates have long released their tax returns to show that they had nothing to hide. The tradition goes back to George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1968.
At issue is whether to codify the tradition or let the voters decide how much weight to place on whether a candidate releases tax information or not. “We all expected anyone who is going to be in front of the public and lead our nation would be transparent,” said Maryland Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s County) in the Post. “He chose not to be, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen again in the future from any candidate.”
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore County) disagrees. “To me, it just looks like sour grapes over the election,” said Jennings. “We don’t reveal our tax returns as legislators. Why are you doing it for the president and not every other office too?”
If the legislation passes, it could become an issue if Trump decides to run for re-election in 2020. At that point, the previous four years of returns will show the presidential salary as well as Trump’s business income since he has said that he will not divest himself of his business empire. The Trump Organization’s ventures around the world provide many opportunities for Trump opponents to accuse the new president of conflicts of interest, charges that might be confirmed by Trump’s taxes.
In 2016, the five states in question were all won by Hillary Clinton. In four of the five, the Democrat won by more than a 10-point margin. The sole state where TRUMP laws are being considered and might significantly impact the race is Maine.
In Maine, the winner of the popular vote gets two electoral votes and one electoral vote goes to the winner of each of the two congressional districts. This year Clinton won the state popular vote by 2.7 percent as well as the first congressional district. Trump won the second congressional district, which entitled him to one of Maine’s four electoral votes.
Whether TRUMP laws would be constitutional is also an open question. In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot impose additional requirements on candidates beyond those listed in the Constitution when it struck down term limits. Rand Paul had hinted at suing the State of Kentucky over a ballot access law that prohibited a candidate from being listed for two separate offices on the same ballot. The Supreme Court has allowed states to set some requirements for ballot access, such as requiring signatures of voters, but struck down others, such as filing fees.
While TRUMP Acts might impact a future election, they have a long way to go. Most bills never become law and, with only one electoral vote at stake, we’ll bet that Donald Trump won’t lose any sleep over TRUMP Acts yet.