Trump's undisclosed tax returns prompts new Washington bill ahead of 2020 election

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia, Wash. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE – In light of Trump’s refusal to release his federal tax returns, Washington state is introducing a new bill to make it a requirement for all presidential and vice-presidential candidates – if they want their names to appear on the primary ballot.

“So, in the sense that President Trump did not sufficiently disclose his tax returns, yes, his failure to adhere to the basic transparency standards, we as Americans should rightfully expect was a significant factor in introducing this bill,” said Washington state Senator Patty Kuderer, who was the main sponsor of the bill filed earlier this month.

“This is not a Democratic or Republican issue, as Americans we are owed this information from presidential candidates,” she added.

Since the 1970s, every U.S. president has disclosed their federal tax returns to the public. The 40-year precedent was broken in the 2016 presidential election.

“One of the key lessons from President Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign is that we can no longer take for granted that candidates will adhere to the norms which typically apply to those seeking our country’s highest office,” Senator Patty Kuderer said.

Lawmakers in at least 26 states have introduced similar bills, with Maryland and Hawaii getting a vote in either house – though none have been successful.

So far, no state has enacted the bill. California and New Jersey were the closest, with both passing in each chamber. But each state's governor vetoed the final bill.

“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,” Governor of California Jerry Brown wrote in a veto message. “First, it may not be constitutional. Second, it sets a ‘slippery slope’ precedent."

He added, "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?”

There is legal precedent that questions a state’s authority in adding to the qualifications required to run for federal office. Though the Supreme Court hasn’t officially ruled on presidential elections in this way, it has mandated that states can’t add to the qualifications of senators and congressional representatives beyond those written in the constitution.

If the bill passes in Washington state, presidential and vice-presidential candidates will have to disclose their federal tax returns from the last five years at least 63 days before the presidential primary.

"This is a national discussion and, as with many other issues, we believe that Washington state’s leadership can be a national turning point,” Kuderer said.

“But more importantly, this is future oriented,” she said. “It’s clear we need to start codifying norms in order to ensure that every Washingtonian and American can fully inform themselves with information that is critical in choosing who to elevate to the presidency.”

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