New CA Law Upsets Trump: Presidential Candidates Must Provide Tax Returns to Get on Primary Ballot

BCK FILE--California joined New York, Illinois, Washington, and 15 other states to require presidential candidates to provide five years of individual tax returns in order to appear on the primary ballot. Since President Nixon began the practice of submitting tax returns, no other president has failed to release his returns. 

The California Senate passed the measure 27-10 last Thursday and the bill now goes to the State Assembly. State Sen. Mike McGuire and Scott Wiener introduced the bill.

While former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation in 2017, it is unclear whether Gov. Newsom will follow suit. Newsom has released his own tax returns as a candidate and has promised to continue releasing his returns each year he is in office.

The President's refusal to share his tax returns with the American people goes against long-standing transparency norms and undermines the trust between government and those it serves. We deserve to know that the President is in fact acting for the good of the people and not in his own monetary self-interest. -- State Sen. Weiner

Voters deserve to know, for example, if the President is putting America's security at risk through his tangled web of business dealings with corporate interests and his dealings with foreign governments and foreign banks. -- State Sen. McGuire

Sec. of Treasury Steven Mnuchin missed the Congressional deadline for sharing the president’s tax returns, stating he would respond to the House Ways & Means’ Chair Richard E. Neal’s request for six years of the president’s tax returns by May 6. Legal experts have noted Mnuchin’s actions may place him in legal jeopardy.

According to an obscure tax law, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, a veteran California tax attorney, is the sole person with authority to provide the president’s returns. However, the commissioner has argued in hearings that the decision to comply with the congressional request rests with Mnuchin.

In the Capitol, congressional Democrats have  issued congressional subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Capital One to secure the president’s past financial records. This past week, lawyers for the president, his family, and the Trump Organization asked for a preliminary injunction to block the subpoenas. The most recent  attempt to stop the banks and one of their lenders to comply with the subpoenas is part of a lawsuit against Deutsche Bank and Capital One to stop the financial institutions from providing documents to the House Intelligence and Financial Services Committees. The motion was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District in New York. The motion was filed to hold off deadlines imposed by the committees until the court makes a final ruling.

While previous presidents have divested themselves of outside financial interests, no other president has had as many financial relationships and business interests held in his family, many of which could potentially compromise his dealings with foreign entities. The American people are entitled to full transparency and disclosure of not only Trump’s tax returns but his fiduciary relationships with banks.

Former chief of staff of the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, George K. Yin, the Edwin S. Cohen Distinguished Professor of Law and Taxation at the University of Virginia School of Law, wrote in Politico about a 1924 law that may allow the Democrats to sue the Treasury Department if the department fails to turn over the president’s taxes, which he writes could be preferable to issuing a subpoena.

Yin writes,”In requesting Trump’s tax returns, Neal is relying on a 1924 law (now found in 26 USC 6103(f)(1)), passed in the wake of scandals such as Teapot Dome, that explicitly authorizes the House Ways and Means Committee chief to obtain any taxpayer’s tax return information by asking for it in writing. The law is clear and direct, stating that the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” any information requested. The plain language places no condition on Neal’s action, says nothing about the need for any specific purpose or justification and doesn’t enumerate any circumstances under which Mnuchin may decline to comply.”

While Trump, his family, and the Trump Organization attempt to run the clock on releasing his tax returns, as well as financial transparency, the measure to keep Trump from appearing on the primary ballot of 19 states is one step in what might require a multi-pronged approach.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a professional writer living in the Los Angeles area. She covers Resistance Watch and other major issues for CityWatch.)