Candidates for President and Vice President would have to show voters tax returns or forfeit their right to be on Washington’s November ballot, under provisions of a bill passed Tuesday on a party-line vote by the Washington State Senate.
“It’s become part of the vetting process,” said State Sen. Patty Kuderer, the Eastside Democrat who is chief sponsor of the bill.
The release of tax returns is a 46-year tradition, beginning with President Nixon in 1973. The Nixon returns showed a huge deduction for the charitable contribution of papers from Nixon’s vice presidency.
Candidate Donald Trump at first promised to release his tax returns, but later reneged, dodging behind a pending audit by the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS has said an audit does not prevent release of papers.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders released only two pages of his 2014 return when he ran for President in 2016. Hillary Clinton released eight years of returns. Sanders is promising to be more forthcoming this cycle.
The Kuderer legislation would require a five-year release of tax returns by candidates for President and Vice President to be on Washington’s ballot. The Secretary of State would be required to post the returns.
“The disclosure requirement you propose is likely Constitutional,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Solicitor General Noah Purcell said in a letter to legislators.
But they predicted that if the bill clears the Legislature, and is signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, there will “definitely” be a legal challenge. And they conceded that it is “exceptionally difficult to predict how a court would rule” given a lack of precedent.
Inslee has released eight years of his tax returns, and made a point of doing so in his 2012 and 2016 runs for Governor.
Trump has resisted all efforts to get at his tax returns.
“I’m going to dig into Donald Trump,” vowed New York’s newly elected Attorney General Letitia James. On Monday, she issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records related to the Trump Organization.
House Democrats, probing Trump’s Russian ties, may also have a go at getting hold of the tax returns.
All 20 State Senate Republicans, and Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Hoodsport who caucuses with the GOP, voted against the disclosure requirement.
“We’re on really risky ground when we’re trying to place conditions on a federal election,” warned Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup.
Added Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place: “I don’t understand why in the world you would promote something that would connote that there’s something suspicious about the activities of our elected officials.”
The legislation goes to the House of Representatives. A similar bill passed the California Legislature two years ago, but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.