Trump Must Release Tax Returns to Get on California's Primary Ballot, If Newsom Signs Bill

President Donald Trump pauses after delivering remarks on citizenship and the census at the White House on July 11. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The California Legislature has passed a bill that would require candidates for president and governor to turn over their income tax returns for the five most recent taxable years — legislation that critics denounced as going after President Donald Trump, who has refused to make his income tax records public.

The state Senate passed SB 27, or the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, on Thursday, a few days after the Assembly approved it. It now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who shared six years of income tax returns when he ran for governor in 2018.

"This bill does not say the words 'Donald Trump.' This bill applies to everyone," the bill's co-author, State Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, said on the Senate floor before the vote.

"Everyone assumed for decades that it was mandatory that you disclose your tax returns because every presidential candidate did it ... This is the least that we can do to know who it is we're voting for."

The legislation requires candidates to submit their returns at least 98 days before the presidential primary election to the Secretary of State, who then has five days to make redacted versions of the records available to the public.

Lawmakers have proposed similar bills in 17 other states in the 2019 statehouse legislative session. At least six of those bills have failed and others are still being considered, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation in 2017.

"This bill is a response to President Trump's refusal to release his returns during the last election," Brown said, questioning its constitutionality.

"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 ... [And] I hesitate to start down a road that well might lead to an ever escalating set of differing state requirements for presidential candidates," he added.

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Critics of the bill agreed with some of Brown's concerns and said the legislation was a waste of time.

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"There's nothing in the federal regulations that say you must turn over your financial records to the government, to the IRS for review. What is being done here today is pre-empted by federal law," said State Sen. Jeff Stone, a Republican from Temecula.

"This is going to be nothing but a waste of taxpayer money. The president's name will be on the ballot."

State Sen. Shannon Grove, a Republican from Bakersfield, said, "To consistently be hostile from this legislative body to the president ... is just not something that we should do."

"We should continue to try to work together with the administration to deliver what's best for California citizens," she added.

SB 27 co-author Mike McGuire (D, Healdsburg) said the law was "simply a ballot access requirement" and that it would prevail in any legal challenges over its constitutionality — though scholars have come out on both sides of that question, according to a Senate analysis of the bill.

"For the past 40 years, every president ... have put aside their own self interest and put the nation's interests firsts. There's only one president who has refused to be able to release his tax returns and that's President Trump," said McGuire. "We're not poking the bear, we're doing what's right ... Americans want their leader to be able to release his or her tax returns."

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