If you thought President Donald Trump's presence on the 2020 ballot was a given, think again. The question of Trump's tax returns has been floating around since the 2016 presidential election, but now it could mean big things in 2020. According to The Washington Post, tax return release bills could force Trump off the 2020 ballot in some states.
While it's not a legal requirement, presidential candidates traditionally make their tax returns public so that voters can be aware of any possible financial conflicts of interest. However, Trump didn't go down that path during the 2016 election and hasn't turned them over while in office, either. The White House did not respond to Elite Daily's request for comment on the president's failure to release the returns. But, if he wants to be on the 2020 ballot in all 50 states, he might have to rethink that. Per The Washington Post, several states, including Washington, California, New Jersey, and Hawaii, are considering legislation that would force presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their tax returns publicly in order to have their names appear on the ballot during the primaries or the general election. The Post notes that bills in other states, such as New Hampshire and Mississippi, failed earlier in the year.
Washington state has already made some initial moves to try to require the release of tax returns. On March 12, Bill 5078, which would require candidates to release five years of tax returns before they could appear on a ballot passed the state Senate, according to CBS News, and moved to the House on Tuesday, March 19. Democratic Sen. Patty Kuderer of Washington State's 48th District, a sponsor of the bill, said during a debate on March 13 that the practice of releasing tax returns "has been the norm" for decades but it's since been "broken." According to CBS News, Kuderer confirmed that she was referring to Trump with her statement. Elite Daily reached out to Kuderer for further comment on Trump's connection to the effort behind the bill, but did not immediately hear back.
In February, New Jersey also made moves to require the release of tax returns for anyone running for president, per The Hill. A bill which would block presidential and vice presidential candidates from appearing on the state's ballot should they fail to release five years of tax returns at least 50 days before the 2020 general election, passed the state Senate on Feb. 21. Not only would the bill keep the names of candidates who fail to release the returns off the ballot, it would also bar the state's electors from voting for those candidates in the electoral college system. As of March 21, the bill is at the State of Assembly to vote on. New Jersey tried to pass the bill once before in 2017, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Chris Christie.
Dan Diorio, policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), wrote in the NCSL's state legislature magazine that around 25 states brought forward similar tax return bills in 2017, and most of them had been introduced by Democrats, "in reaction to President Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns as per the custom of previous presidential candidates."
While these bill could be seen as a measure to ensure more transparency in the election process, some critics of tax return bills think it's a slippery slope. In 2017, former California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed Senate Bill SB 149, legislation that would force presidential candidates to release their tax returns. "Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?” he said of the legislation in his veto message, per The LA Times. Brown then went onto list things that might be required in order to run for president like "five years of health records," birth certificates, and "high school report cards."
Trump refused to offer up his tax returns in 2016, saying it was because his returns are under audit. "Nobody turns over a [tax] return when it’s under audit,” Trump said during a Nov. 7, 2018 news conference, per The Washington Post, but admitted later that the audit doesn't actually prevent him from releasing them. “I didn’t say it prevented me, I said lawyers will tell you not to do it,” said Trump. The White House did not immediately respond to Elite Daily's request for comment on Trump's failure to make his tax returns public since 2016.
As of March 21, none of the tax return release bills have been passed into law, but they aren't the only point of access Democrats are working on to gain Trump's returns. According to CNN, Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — the chief tax writing committee in the House — is the only congressman with the power to obtain Trump's tax returns, as it's within the committee's rights to ask the Treasury Department for tax information. And he apparently plans to use that power. Back in December, CNN reported that Neal intended to formally ask for the tax returns, but there was no action on it yet. NBC News reported on March 1 that the committee is in the process of preparing their formal request to the Treasury Department for Trump's tax returns. Elite Daily reached out to the committee for further details on the request, but did not immediately hear back. The White House did not immediately respond to Elite Daily's request for comment on the matter.
None of these bills have yet been passed into law, but it will be very interesting to see what happens in 2020 if they do.