As the only president in the modern era who has refused to release his tax returns, Donald Trump has upended longstanding tradition around the practice. Tradition aside, however, there is no formal requirement that a president release his or her tax returns. As a result, a number of state legislatures are this year considering making changes to their own election processes in order to compel Trump, as well as any other would-be presidential candidate, to release their returns or be removed from the ballot, MSN reports.
In most cases, the provision would apply to both primaries and general elections alike.
Recently Washington state made headlines as their bill passed the state Senate. In addition, the National Conference of State Legislatures has indicated that another 17 states are considering similar provisions, including New Jersey.
“It is so obvious with this president that had voters known some of what seem to be his business interests, he may not have been elected president,” said New Jersey Senator Loretta Weinberg, who is a Democrat and a co-sponsor of the New Jersey bill.
Generally speaking, states with Democratic majorities are driving these bills, contributing to the accusation that the play is a political one rather than a strictly democratic one.
“It is always true in American politics that these ideas are championed by perhaps the side that has more of political grievance at that particular moment,” said Dan Weiner, a senior counsel for the Brennan Center, a non-partisan public policy institute. “That doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.”
Regardless of the progress of any of the bills currently under consideration, states are operating in murky legal territory when it comes to influencing appearances on the presidential ballot. In the case that a law is passed in one or more states, court challenges are all but assured. Additionally, a protracted court challenge to the requirement could easily drag out past the 2020 election.
Trump, back when he was a candidate, created substantial controversy when during the 2016 election he refused to make his tax returns public. At that time, he said that his returns were currently being audited by the IRS and thus could not be shared. The IRS in response indicated that even if under audit, nothing prevented Trump from sharing them. Despite promises to reveal the returns once the audit was over, they have remained private, much to the frustration of opponents.
When Democrats retook the House in 2018, they renewed their efforts to make the returns public, so far to no avail.