Public support is growing for a law that requires presidential candidates to release their tax returns as a condition for appearing on the ballot
Legislation requiring presidential candidates to release their five most recent federal tax returns as a prerequisite for appearing on a ballot in New York is getting widespread public support, according to the bill’s sponsor.
Nearly 138,000 people have signed a petition supporting the Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public Act, which would force candidates for president to release five years of tax returns to the New York State Board of Elections no later than 50 days before the general election.
The T.R.U.M.P. Act (S.26/A.4072) sponsored by New York Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan and Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy-D-Albany, was inspired by Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns during the general election, breaking a 40-year practice of presidential candidates releasing tax returns to the public.
Failure to comply with the proposed law would disqualify a candidate from appearing on the general election ballot and prohibit New York’s representatives in the Electoral College from casting a vote for them.
The controversy surrounding his refusal has led to many states considering drafting similar bills, using Hoylman’s bill as a template. The bill has been introduced in New York, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Virginia. Legislators in Maine, Maryland, Hawaii, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon and Colorado have made commitments to introduce similar bills.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, several members of Congress have backed the idea of the Presidential Tax Transparency Act. The Presidential Tax Transparency Act was first introduced to the 114th Congress on May 25, 2016. The act was sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. It has a similar objective as the T.R.U.M.P. Act, but requires only the past three tax returns to be disclosed.
No law currently forces presidential candidates to release their tax information, but it had become customary over the last 40 years for candidates to do so. President Trump stated last September during a debate against Hillary Clinton that not paying income taxes, “Makes me smart.”
Trump had suggested he would release his tax returns after an ongoing IRS audit is complete, but now says he has no plans to. Kellyanne Conway, one of President Trump’s top aides, said in an interview with ABC that, “He’s not going to release his tax returns.”
When President Trump was asked if he thinks the population is concerned about not keeping his word on releasing his tax returns after the audit, President Trump responded, “No, I don’t think they’re concerned ¬– I won.”
However, a national survey shows otherwise. According to Public Poll Policy, Americans support the idea of a law like Hoylman’s T.R.U.M.P. Act by a 54 to 34 percent margin. The same poll directly asked registered voters whether Trump should release his tax returns. Fifty-nine percent of respondents answered “yes” while 32 percent said “no.”
“For over four decades, tax returns have given voters an important window into the financial holdings and potential conflicts-of-interest of presidential candidates,” Hoylman said. “Sadly, President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly refused to release copies of his federal income taxes prior to the election, denying voters this crucial information. This isn’t normal,” stated Hoylman.
Following the submission of the tax returns, the Board of Elections would reserve the right to redact personal information about a candidate, and then publish the returns to its website. If a candidate failed to comply, they would be disqualified from appearing on the ballot and the New York Electoral College would not be allowed to cast votes for a disqualified candidate.
The last tax return that can be found from President Trump is from a leaked 1995 return that shows he reported a $916 million loss. Losses can be carried over and spread out, thus causing many to speculate that he has not paid taxes since.
Voters can learn a lot from income tax return forms, including yearly income, debts, investments, tax bracket, loopholes used, charitable donations and business connections. With President Trump refusing to release this information, it was hard to make a judgement of his business dealings and transactions over the last 20 years, says Hoylman.
Both the Senate and Assembly bills reside in their respective Elections Committees.
“The practice of releasing tax returns has been standard practice for the simple reason that American presidential candidates should be held to a higher standard of transparency,” Hoylman said. “When long standing democratic norms are threatened, it becomes necessary to codify them into law. That’s the purpose of the T.R.U.M.P. Act.”