The Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public Act would require presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose five years of federal income tax returns in order to appear on the ballot in New York state
Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, has drafted legislation that would require presidential candidates to submit their most recent five years’ worth of tax returns to the New York state Board of Elections in order to appear on the ballot in New York state.
The bill, expected to be introduced early in the upcoming session, comes after president-elect Donald Trump repeatedly refused to release his tax returns during the recent election cycle, breaking a 40-year tradition in American politics.
While no law legally requires candidates to do so, the issue did come up during the September 26 presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton, with Clinton suggesting was hesitant to release the documents because he doesn’t pay income taxes. “That makes me smart,” Trump quipped in response.
“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. “Voters deserve to know that personal priorities will never take precedence over the national interest.”
Under the provisions of the Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public Act, any candidate for president or vice president who wants to appear on the New York ballot would be required to file at least five years’ worth of their federal income tax returns with the Board of Elections no later than 50 days prior to the general election.
Upon receipt of those tax returns, the Board of Elections would have 10 days to redact personal information and make them publicly available on its website.
Failure to comply with the 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.
“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.”
The IRS said in February of this year that privacy rules prevent the agency from discussing an individual’s tax returns, but added nothing prevents someone from sharing their own tax information if they want to. A copy of Trump’s 1995 tax return obtained by the New York Times shows the president-elect reported a $916 million loss that year, a deduction large enough to allow him to avoid paying federal income tax for up to 18 years.
Because presidents are exempt from most federal conflicts-of-interest laws, tax information — along with legally required financial disclosure forms — provide voters their only opportunity to view candidates’ financial standings including yearly income and debts, list of investments, tax rate paid, loopholes utilized, amount given to charity, as well as a list of business connections and interests.
“Voters deserve to know that personal priorities will never take precedence over the national interest,” Hoylman said. “In response, New York should take corrective action and make the provision of tax returns a qualification to appear on the ballot for President of the United States. And I hope other state legislatures will follow New York’s lead and introduce their own version of the T.R.U.M.P. Act.”
Full disclosure is something voters want, Hoylman said, and polls back that up.
For example, a CNN/ORC poll of registered voters nationwide, taken between September 28 and October 2, found that 73 percent of likely voters and 73 percent of registered voters thought Donald Trump should release his tax returns for public review.
Of those likely voters, 35 percent said Trump did not release his tax filings because he is being audited by the IRS, while 56 percent said it is because he is trying to hide something that he doesn’t want the public to know.
“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.”