Gov. Gavin Newsom Signs Bill on Presidential Tax Returns

This July 23, 2019 photo shows California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. Newsom signed a law Tuesday, July 30, requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns to appear on the state’s primary ballot, a move aimed squarely at Republican President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli).

California’s Democratic governor signed a law Tues­day requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns to appear on the state’s primary ballot, a move aimed squarely at Republican Presi­dent Donald Trump.

Most of the major Demo­cratic candidates for president have already publicly dis­closed their personal income tax returns as Trump has re­fused to do so, breaking with decades of tradition by candi­dates from both parties.

The Trump campaign said the law signed by Newsom is “unconstitutional.” But even if the law withstands a likely legal challenge, Trump could avoid the requirement by choosing not to compete in California’s March 3rd pri­mary.

The Republican National Committee does not require candidates to appear on prima­ry ballots in all 50 states. With no credible GOP challenger at this point, Trump likely won’t need California’s delegates to win the Republican nomina­tion. The law does not apply to the general election ballot.

Harmeet K. Dhillon, one of California’s two repre­sentatives on the Republican National Committee, called the bill an “illegal voter sup­pression scheme.” Removing Trump from the state’s primary ballot would likely depress turnout from GOP voters for down-ticket races and ballot measures, she said.

Newsom, who has repeat­edly sparred with Trump over immigration policy and Cali­fornia’s troubled high-speed rail project, said the state’s in­fluence as one of the world’s largest economies gives it “a special responsibility” to hold candidates to high ethical stan­dards, including disclosing in­formation about their personal finances.

“These are extraordinary times and states have a legal and moral duty to do every­thing in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest of­fices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confi­dence,” Newsom wrote in his signing statement.

While states have author­ity over how candidates can access their ballots, the U.S. Constitution lays out a limited set of qualifications candidates must meet to run for president, said Rick Hasen, a professor specializing in election law at the University of California- Irvine School of Law. Those qualifications include requir­ing presidential candidates be over age 35, born in the U.S. and live at least 14 years in the country.

The U.S. Supreme court has previously halted state efforts to add ballot access rules for congressional candidates.

The bill’s author, Demo­cratic Sen. Mike McGuire, said it would be “inconsistent” with past practice for Trump to forego the primary ballot and “ignore the most popular and vote-rich state in the nation.”

In a tweet to Trump, Mc­Guire said: “If you want to be on the CA primary ballot, re­lease your returns. It’s a low bar to hit, unless you have something to hide.”

Tax returns show income, charitable giving and business dealings, all of which Demo­cratic state lawmakers say vot­ers are entitled to know about.

California is the first state to enact legislation compel­ling political candidates to disclose their personal income tax returns. New York state has passed a law giving con­gressional committees access to Trump’s state tax returns, which Trump has challenged in court . Efforts to pry loose his tax returns have floundered in other states.

California’s first attempt to force presidential candidates to reveal their tax returns failed in 2017 when then-Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, vetoed the law after raising questions about its constitutionality. Of the 18 state legislatures that in­troduced similar bills in 2019, 11 are still active, according to Dylan Lynch, a policy special­ist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

California’s law requires candidates to submit tax re­turns for the most recent five years to California’s Secretary of State at least 98 days before the primary. They will then be posed online for the public to view, with some personal in­formation redacted.

The law also applies to can­didates for governor. Newsom, who took office in January, re­leased six years of his personal income tax returns prior to California’s 2018 gubernato­rial primary.

Jack Pitney, a political sci­ence professor at Claremont McKenna College, said Cali­fornia’s new law will bring greater transparency but could deter some candidates with complex tax returns from run­ning for governor.

“Even if the tax returns are completely lawful, there is plenty of material for opposition researchers,” he said.

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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