California Governor Gavin Newsome has signed into law the “Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act,” in an attempt to force President Trump to release his tax returns or risk being banned from the 2020 ballot in the Golden State. The bill (SB 27) was overwhelmingly approved by both the State Assembly and Senate along party lines, and early responders are already claiming that this is a partisan attack that will be a slippery slope for the Constitution.
The bill requires that any person running for president or governor in California must produce and file copies of their tax returns with the CA secretary of state in order to appear on the primary ballot. It also includes an “urgency clause” in what appears to be a direct effort to force Donald Trump’s hand before 2020.
A Rational Rationale?
Governor Newsome laid out his reasons for signing in a statement, saying:
“As one of the largest economies in the world and home to one in nine Americans eligible to vote, California has a special responsibility to require this information of presidential and gubernatorial candidates.”
He added, “The disclosure required by this bill will shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interest.”
Challenges are already being made to the controversial bill, with some claiming, including Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh, that the move was clearly “unconstitutional.” He wrote:
“There are very good reasons why the very liberal Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed this bill two years ago – it’s unconstitutional and it opens up the possibility for states to load up more requirements on candidates in future elections. What’s next, five years of health records?”
These sentiments appear an almost direct mirror of former Governor Jerry Brown’s response when he vetoed the same legislation in 2017. “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,” he said. “Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards?”
While it is highly unlikely that President Trump will win, or even campaign particularly hard to earn, California’s Electoral College votes, many worry that this will set a dangerous precedent in terms of requiring qualifications that suit a present political climate.
The law, if it stays in place, could lead to other requirements being added at the whim of partisan state lawmakers. Will future politicians require that candidates for high office assent to certain value codes, or ascribe to certain positions to be eligible for the position?
Murtaugh also adds that the bill is unconstitutional because of the First Amendment. He writes:
“The Constitution is clear on the qualifications for someone to serve as president and states cannot add additional requirements on their own … The bill also 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.”
It will most likely fall to the courts to decide whether the state can implement the ballot access requirement. And President Trump, facing no serious primary challenges, could just decide to either sue or stay off the ballot completely.
It seems as though California Democrats are determined to draw a clear line between themselves and the rest of the country, and it is a line that seems destined to end in a tit-for-tat escalation. With other coastal politicians such as New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman tweeting “No taxes, no presidency!,” this new bill could end up snowballing into each state looking to apply requirements based on its own vision of what a president should be. Ultimately, it will be voters, denied of choice, denied of their rights, that lose out.