Gov. Gavin Newsom rarely backs down from a Twitter fight with President Donald Trump. That makes sense. A spat with the president is social media gold, and the consequences of such contretemps typically fade within hours or days.
Given his ongoing public beef with the president, Newsom must surely be tempted to sign Senate Bill 27, the “Presidential Tax Transparency Act and Accountability Act.” The bill would require presidential candidates to release five years’ worth of personal tax returns before they can appear on California’s ballot.
It would also deepen the nation’s political crisis by trying to keep the president off of the ballot in the nation’s most populous state. That’s why Newsom should veto this silly stunt.
To be fair, the bill has some logic: “… a Presidential candidate’s income tax returns provide voters with essential information regarding the candidate’s potential conflicts of interest, business dealings, financial status, and charitable donations. The information in tax returns therefore helps voters to make a more informed decision.”
Hard to argue. Yet, it’s clear that the bill is simply designed to needle Trump and disrupt the democratic process. If the governor signs the bill, he would put the state at the center of a drama that could backfire dramatically.
“While I recognize the political attractiveness – even the merits – of getting President Trump’s tax returns, I worry about the political perils of individual states seeking to regulate presidential elections in this manner,” said Gov. Jerry Brown when he vetoed a previous version of the bill last year. “First, it may not be constitutional. Second, it sets a ‘slippery slope’ precedent. Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? 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?”
Brown makes a good point. If California kicks off a trend of states making sweeping changes regarding who can appear on the ballot, where does it end? Will states with Republican majorities start passing laws designed to keep Democratic candidates off the ballot? Given ongoing Republican efforts to make it harder for people to vote, does Newsom really want to create new methods of election meddling? Who wins that game?
All candidates for higher office should release their tax returns, as the governor himself has done. Trump has broken with tradition by refusing to release his, but the Constitution does not require presidential candidates to do so. Even if Newsom signed SB 27, it’s unlikely the law would survive legal challenges. So, why make California taxpayers fund a frivolous legal battle?
There’s another big reason why SB 27 would be a stupid move: Trump has no chance of winning here. Despite the president’s delusional claims of widespread support in the Golden State, the Republican brand continues to shrink into irrelevance. Only 25 percent of Californians identify as Republicans. Every statewide elected official is a Democrat.
So, in addition to being harmful to democracy and unconstitutional, the law would literally have no effect on the outcome of the presidential election in California. Trump will lose California – bigly.
Newsom’s signature on SB 27 would only help Trump by allowing him to credibly claim that Democrats are rigging the election.
Our state has plenty of real problems to solve. This isn’t one of them. If voters don’t trust a candidate who won’t release their tax returns, they can simply cast a vote for someone else.
Gov. Newsom should save the jokes for Twitter and take the moral high road by stamping a veto on SB 27.