Capitol Alert

Gavin Newsom OKs law forcing Trump to release tax returns to get on California’s ballot

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a bill on Tuesday to force President Donald Trump to release his tax returns in order to get on the state’s 2020 primary ballot.

While other states have pursued Trump’s taxes, California is the first one in the country to make the disclosure of tax returns a requirement for a ballot spot.

Senate Bill 27, dubbed the “Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act,” took effect immediately after Newsom’s signed it.

The proposal from Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, requires all candidates president and governor to submit the last five years of their tax returns to the Secretary of State. The information will then be published online for the public to see, with contact information, Social Security numbers and medical information redacted.

“The United States Constitution grants states the authority to determine how their electors are chosen, and California is well within its constitutional right to include this requirement,” Newsom wrote in a signing statement.

Trump has long refused to release his tax information, and his campaign considers the new law unconstitutional.

Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for the president’s 2020 campaign, previously told The Sacramento Bee that “the Constitution is clear on the qualifications for someone to serve as president and states cannot add additional requirements on their own.”

He added that the bill “violates the 1st Amendment right of association since California can’t tell political parties which candidates their members can or cannot vote for in a primary election.”

Newsom worked with lawmakers to add gubernatorial candidates to the bill in an effort to promote transparency and demonstrate that the effort goes beyond Trump. During his 2018 bid for governor, Newsom released six years of tax returns.

The bill also applies to the Democratic presidential candidates, most of whom have already disclosed their tax information. Earlier this month, former Vice President Joe Biden released three years of his tax returns. He’d need to release two more years of returns to get his name on California’s 2020 primary ballot.

But despite efforts to make the bill bipartisan, no Republicans in the Legislature supported the proposal. It passed on a party-line vote.

“This is not a partisan issue,” McGuire said. “This is not an issue Trump should be fighting. It’s not an issue California picked. Trump has chosen the side of secrecy.”

Newsom’s Democratic predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, had declined to release his own tax returns and vetoed a similar bill in 2017. He warned it “may not be constitutional” and could establish a “slippery slope” precedent.

“Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?” Brown wrote in his veto message. “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?”

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, is unsure how an all-but-certain legal battle between California and Trump would play out in court. She said the outcome would largely depend on the judge who hears the case.

While Trump could make a compelling case that the U.S. Constitution created a firm set of eligibility requirements related to age and citizenship, California could successfully argue it has administrative jurisdiction over its ballots.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla supports the bill, previously telling The Bee that “people have a right to know about the commander-in-chief’s potential conflicts of interest.”

The vast majority of Americans agree with him.

A Quinnipiac University Poll conducted before the 2016 presidential election showed a majority of both Republican and Democratic likely voters wanted to see Trump’s tax information. Shortly after Trump was sworn in, nearly three in four adults surveyed in a Washington Post/ABC News poll agreed Trump should share his tax records.

But Trump has repeatedly said people don’t care about his tax returns.

“I won the 2016 Election partially based on no Tax Returns while I am under audit (which I still am), and the voters didn’t care,” Trump wrote on Twitter on May 11. “Now the Radical Left Democrats want to again relitigate this matter. Make it a part of the 2020 Election!”

With the new law in place, the issue is officially part of the 2020 election. Ten states have bills that would force Trump to release anywhere from one year to 10 years of tax returns in order to get on a state ballot. Proposals from five states — Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington — have already cleared one chamber this year, according to records from the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Election Legislation Database.

“Newsom has led by example, releasing his tax returns. I believe the president should follow suit,” McGuire said.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
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