With Newsom’s Signature, Presidential Hopefuls Now Have to Show Us Their Taxes

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Gavin Newsom - WIKIPEDIA
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Gov. Gavin Newsom today signed legislation brought forward by North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire that requires presidential hopefuls to release their tax returns in order to run in the Golden State’s primary election.

“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,” Newsom says in a statement. “The disclosure required by this bill will shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interest.”

While candidates for the nation’s highest office have traditionally turned over the financial papers for more than half a century, President Donald Trump is, of course, the notorious exception to the rule in refusing to make his taxes public.

(Side note: The pre-Trump established practice of releasing tax returns is widely touted as dating back to President Richard Nixon, but he didn’t start the ball rolling voluntarily. It was only after his were leaked to the press — showing he wasn’t paying much — that Nixon turned over more on his own accord, setting the stage for future candidate who would do the same. Until 2016.)

McGuire, who was joined in penning Senate Bill 27 by Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, called Newsom’s signature a “huge victor for transparency.”
A previous version was vetoed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, who questioned whether it could withstand a legal challenge and warned of “the political perils of individual states seeking to regulate presidential elections in this manner.”

“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?" Brown wrote in his veto message.

But McGuire followed through on his promise last July — in the wake
Mike McGuire
  • Mike McGuire
 of President Donald Trump’s widely condemned joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland — to try again and reintroduced the legislation in December.

Senate Bill 27 will require a candidate for president or California governor to file “copies of every income tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service in the five most recent taxable years with the Secretary of State, at least 98 days prior to the corresponding primary election.”

Included as an addendum to Newsom’s statement are comments from three attorneys — described as “Nationally recognized leaders in constitutional law” — who voiced their support and assurances that the bill would withstand a legal challenge.

“SB 27, which requires that presidential candidates disclose tax returns, is constitutional. It does not keep any candidate from being on the ballot so long as he or she complies with a simple requirement that is meant to provide California voters crucial information,” says Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

“This is the state acting to make sure that its voters have information that might be very important to them when they cast their ballots as to who they want to be president of the United States.”

But not everyone sees it that way.

A statement from RNC National Committee member and Vice President of the Republican National Lawyers Association Harmeet K. Dhillon calls the bill a “cynical and illegal voter suppression scheme” aimed at suppressing the Republican vote.

“It’s sad that Gov. Newsom decided to ignore the sage and measured approach taken by his predecessor, Gov. Brown, in vetoing similar legislation due to the manifest illegality and policy implications of this effort,” Dhillon’s statement reads. “And yet again, California voters are used as pawns by a Democratic Party substituting cheap gimmicks such as this law, for policy solutions to California’s many ills. This ill-conceived law is doomed to failure."

Read Gov. Newsom’s statement below:

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom signed today legislation requiring candidates for U.S. President and California Governor to disclose their income tax returns in order to appear on California’s primary ballot.

SB 27, by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), requires a candidate for U.S. President or California Governor to file copies of every income tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service in the five most recent taxable years with the Secretary of State, at least 98 days prior to the corresponding primary election.

In signing the legislation, the Governor issued the following signing statement:

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.

Sincerely,

Gavin Newsom

Addendum to Newsom’s statement:
Governor Newsom has made releasing tax returns a priority in his campaigns for San Francisco Mayor, Lieutenant Governor and Governor. The Sacramento Bee wrote in 2017 Newsom “set a standard of transparency” for releasing 6 years of tax returns in his campaign for Governor, and after being elected Governor, Newsom announced he will become the first Governor in state history to release his tax returns on a yearly basis.

Nationally recognized leaders in constitutional law offered their support for the law and its constitutionality:

Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean, University of California, Berkeley School of Law:

SB 27, which requires that presidential candidates disclose tax returns, is constitutional. It does not keep any candidate from being on the ballot so long as he or she complies with a simple requirement that is meant to provide California voters crucial information. This is the state acting to make sure that its voters have information that might be very important to them when they cast their ballots as to who they want to be President of the United States.

Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP:

SB 27, which would require a presidential candidate to publicly release redacted versions of her tax returns before her name can be placed on a California ballot for President of the United States, is constitutional. As the Ninth Circuit recently explained, such laws are constitutional if they are “generally applicable, even-handed, [and] politically neutral,” and the State has an important justification for enacting the law. De La Fuente v. Padilla, No. 17-56668, 2019 WL 3242193, at *3 (9th Cir. July 19, 2019).

Here, California’s bill meets all of these requirements. It will apply to any candidate for President, whether Republican, Democrat, or Independent. And as the State Legislature concluded, the State has important interests “in ensuring that its voters make informed, educated choices in the voting booth,” among many other important reasons.

Every President from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama voluntarily chose to release his tax returns when running for office. Releasing tax information should be a prerequisite for appearing on the ballot for the highest office in the land, and the Constitution does not forbid California from making it one.

David Boies, Chairman, Boies Schiller Flexner LLP:

California SB-27, which would enact the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, is constitutional. That bill would require a candidate for President or Governor to file the candidate’s five most recent years of income tax returns with the California Secretary of State in order to have their names placed on California’s primary election ballot. Redacted versions of those returns would be made available to the public. The U.S. Constitution gives each state the authority to determine how that state’s electors are chosen, limited only by compliance with other constitutional provisions, such as equal protection. No other constitutional provision is implicated or violated by a state’s requirement that a Presidential candidate disclose tax returns. Moreover, California, which permits electors to be chosen by popular vote, has an important interest in insuring that its voters are informed. I also would note that people are regularly required to produce their tax returns pursuant to state law for far less consequential matters than a Presidential election, such as civil litigation or obtaining a loan from a bank.

Read Harmeet Dhillon’s entire statement below:
California — RNC National Committeewoman and Vice President of the Republican National Lawyers Association, Harmeet K. Dhillon (@pnjaban), issued the following statement regarding Senate Bill 27, which was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom today, and requires presidential candidates to make public their last five years of tax filings to be a allowed on the California primary ballot.

"Make no mistake: SB27 is a cynical and illegal voter suppression scheme whose sole purpose is to deny California voters their Constitutionally protected right to vote for qualified candidates for President, and to suppress the Republican vote in California not just for President but also for all the down-ticket races, ballot measures, and power grabs the Democrats have in store for the 2020 ballot.

Even Congress is not allowed to ask for an individual’s tax returns without a proper legislative purpose, and this attempted “workaround” through blue states, mocks our separation of powers and our system of checks and balances.

Beyond this cynical Trump persecution du jour, this bad law is a Pandora’s box which may lead other jurisdictions to impose similarly frivolous and unconstitutional requirements on Presidential candidates, with no policy or legal justification.

It’s sad that Governor Newsom decided to ignore the sage and measured approach taken by his predecessor, Governor Brown, in vetoing similar legislation due to the manifest illegality and policy implications of this effort. And yet again, California voters are used as pawns by a Democratic Party substituting cheap gimmicks such this law, for policy solutions to California’s many ills. This ill-conceived law is doomed to failure."

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