Incoming California Gov. Gavin Newsom will put his businesses in a blind trust and will release his tax returns every year, he announced Thursday.
Newsom, who takes office Jan. 7, has made millions of dollars from his wineries, restaurants and hotels. He’s promising to disclose his personal and business holdings every year in addition to his tax returns. He says he’ll be the first governor to release his tax returns annually.
“It’s a big deal,” said Jessica Levinson, a government ethics expert and professor at Loyola Law School. “This is much more than a symbolic gesture.”
Newsom’s decision also hints at the Democratic governor-elect’s political ambitions, she said.
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“I think he’s saying, No. 1, I’m not Donald Trump and, No. 2, I have aspirations for higher office,” she said.
The move invites comparison with the president, also a wealthy businessman. Trump became the first presidential candidate in decades who refused to release his tax returns. Outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill last year that would have required presidential candidates to release their tax returns to run in California’s primary elections.
Trump has also resisted calls to divest from his extensive real estate holdings or to put those businesses in a completely blind trust. Instead, he put his children in charge of his businesses when he took office. The former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics has said that the arrangement isn’t truly blind.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put his assets in a blind trust run by his friend and financial adviser, Paul Wachter, which prompted concerns that it was not truly blind.
Shyla Hendrickson, an attorney and Newsom family friend, will manage his businesses while he is in office and will be legally barred from sharing business information with the governor and his representatives, Newsom spokesman Nathan Click said.
Newsom will also issue an executive order forbidding state executive branch agencies from doing business with PlumpJack, the hospitality company he founded. The PlumpJack Group owns wineries, boutique hotels, restaurants and spirits shops in San Francisco, Napa, Palm Springs, Lake Tahoe and Marin County.
When asked during a campaign bus tour whether he should sell his businesses to avoid ethics issues, Newsom said he was too attached to them to let them go, The Associated Press reported.
“These are my babies, my life, my family,” Newsom told reporters on the bus tour. “I can’t sell them.”