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California Will Require President Trump, Others, To Release Tax Returns Before Appearing On Ballot

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - In order for President Donald Trump to appear on California's Presidential primary ballot, he will need to disclose five years worth of tax returns by November 26.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 27 Tuesday. He wrote:

"To the Members of the California State Senate:

Today, I am signing SB 27, the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act. I agree with the Legislature that "the State of California has a strong interest in ensuring that its voters make informed, educated choices in the voting booth." As one of the largest economies in the world and home to one in nine Americans eligible to vote, California has a special responsibility to require this information of presidential and gubernatorial candidates.

 These are extraordinary times and states have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confidence. The disclosure required by this bill will shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interest.

 The United States Constitution grants states the authority to determine how their electors are chosen, and California is well within its constitutional right to include this requirement.

 In October of 2018, the Brennan Center's National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy, a bipartisan group of former public servants and policy experts, recommended that Congress standardize and codify the longstanding practice of tax return disclosure by sitting presidents, vice presidents, and candidates for those offices to assist voters and deter corruption. I agree. This law should be a national standard 

 Accordingly, I am signing Senate Bill 27."

The bill, known as the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, requires all Presidential and Gubernatorial candidates in the state to disclose their returns at least 98 days before an election. It had previously passed both the Senate and Assembly along party lines.

Now that SB 27 is law, candidates must file two copies of the five most recent returns with the California Secretary of State's Office. One copy of the return would be identical to the version filed with the IRS. The other copy would be a redacted version that would be posted to the Secretary of State's site within five days. The redactions would be reviewed by the Secretary of State to ensure they follow state protocol. Once the election is complete the tax returns will be removed from the website.

The law applies to all Presidential and Gubernatorial candidates, regardless of party affiliation. California's next election is the primary on March 3.

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California has a number of requirements for those running for other state offices:

  • Permits a person to have their name placed on the ballot as a presidential candidate in the presidential primary election by either determination of the SOS that a person is a generally-recognized candidate or by circulating nomination papers, as specified.
  • Permits an otherwise qualified person to submit a statement of write-in candidacy as a presidential candidate for the presidential primary election, as specified.
  • Requires a candidate for Governor to abide by the following qualifications:
    a) A U.S. citizen;
    b) A registered voter and otherwise qualified to vote for that office at the time that nomination papers are issued to the person;
    c) Not have been convicted of a felony involving accepting or giving, or offering to give, any bribe, the embezzlement of public money, extortion or theft of public money, perjury, or conspiracy to commit any of those crimes; and,
    d) Not have served two terms in the office sought since November 6, 1990.
  • Requires a candidate for state office, no later than the final filing date of a declaration of candidacy, to file a statement disclosing their investments, their interests in real property, and any income received during the immediately preceding 12 months, as specified.
  • Requires an elected state officer, within 30 days after assuming the office, annually thereafter and after leaving office, to file a statement disclosing their investments, their interests in real property held on the date of assuming office, and any income received, as specified.

In 2017, then-candidate Gavin Newsom disclosed six years worth of tax returns while running for Governor.

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It has been customary for presidential candidates to release their tax returns, although it isn't federal law. However, candidates for President and Vice President must disclose certain financial information to the Federal Elections Commission within 30 days of declaring their candidacy. That information contains financial ranges, not specific amounts, and a candidate doesn't include homes, cars, and federal retirement plans.

California is one of a number of states that introduced legislation requiring candidates to reveal their tax information. A separate federal bill, the For the People Act, is also being debated. That bill would require a candidate to release ten years worth of returns. A question remains of whether this is allowed under the US Constitution. Per the analyses:

"While the courts have not ruled directly on this question, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on ballot access requirements for congressional candidates and has held that states and the federal government cannot add to the qualifications of Senator or congressional representatives outlined in the federal Constitution. In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995) 514 U.S. 779, held that Arkansas could not deny ballot access to congressional candidates who served more than three terms or to Senate candidates who served more than two terms, essentially striking down measures the state had enacted to create congressional term limits. Furthermore the court ruled that the U.S. Constitution set the exclusive qualifications running for federal office (including age and citizenship requirements), and that states do not have the authority to alter or add to the terms contained in them. The courts have also allowed states the authority to set reasonable conditions for candidates for federal elective office in order to ensure serious candidates appear on the ballot. Such conditions include common mechanisms such as a filing fee or
securing a sufficient number of voters' signatures on a petition. However, such conditions cannot go further and set substantive conditions for who can run. In Storer v. Brown (1974) 415 U.S. 724, 732-733, the court upheld a California law that prohibited an independent candidate from running if he had registered with a party or voted in the preceding party primary and required candidates to complete a petition with 5% of signatures from the preceding general election, as specified. The court upheld the law as it applied to congressional candidates and affirmed that provisions that merely
regulate access to the ballot are constitutionally permissible even though those requirements are not contained in the relevant constitutional Qualifications Clause. In sum, Term Limits stands for the proposition that states cannot use ballot access provisions to add or alter the qualifications for federal elective office, while Storer affirms that provisions that merely regulate access to the ballot are constitutionally permissible."

In the 2016 election, California had 172 Republican delegates and 551 Democratic delegates (475 pledged and 76 unpledged). The Republican delegates were pledged to support now-President Donald Trump after he won the primary with 74.7% of the vote. John Kasich came in second carrying 11.4% of the vote. In order to secure the Republican nomination for president, a candidate needed to secure a simple majority (1,237) of the 2,472 total delegates. For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton won California's primary with 53.07% of the vote and secured 320 delegates (254 pledged and 66 unpledged). Senator Bernie Sanders got 46.04% of the vote and earned 221 delegates (221 pledged and 0 unpledged). In 2016, the Democratic candidate for president needed 2,382 of the parties 4,763 delegates to win the nomination.

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation in 2017, writing:

"Although tax returns are by law confidential, many presidential candidates have voluntarily released them. This bill is a response to President Trump's
refusal to release his returns during the last election. While I recognize the political attractiveness -- even the merits -- of getting President Trump's tax returns, I worry about the political perils of individual states seeking to regulate presidential elections in this manner. First, it may not be constitutional. Second, it sets a "slippery slope" precedent. Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A
certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power? A qualified candidate's ability to appear on the ballot is fundamental to our democratic system. For that reason, I hesitate to start down a road that well might lead to an ever escalating set of differing state requirements for presidential candidates.

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