President Donald Trump could be kept from the ballot in 2020 in more than a dozen states if he doesn’t disclose his tax returns under measures state lawmakers are considering.
New Jersey became the latest state this week to advance a proposal inspired by the Republican president’s failure to disclose his tax returns during the campaign. The New Jersey measure requires presidential and vice presidential candidates to release five years’ worth of federal tax returns in order to appear on the state’s ballot.
Trump broke with nearly four decades of tradition by failing to release his tax returns during the campaign, and Democrats have used the issue to raise questions about what might be in the documents.
Trump has tweeted about running the government for eight years, indicating he plans to seek re-election in 2020.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have proposed bills aimed at preventing access to the presidential ballot without disclosing federal tax returns, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and an Associated Press review of pending bills. The bills come at a time when Trump’s job approval rating is low, but with Republicans in control of government in Washington and as out-of-power Democrats search for a way to push back.
“There’s no doubt about it that the idea from my perspective came from what happened in the most recent election,” said New Jersey Democratic Assemblyman John McKeon. “It obviously has no impact on the last election and will be in place on a prospective basis.”
Democrats are rooting the idea in what they say is popular support, according to McKeon.
Nationwide, about two-thirds of registered voters said it’s somewhat or very important for presidential candidates to release their tax returns, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll in September.
PUSHBACK TO THE PUSHBACK
The fate of the bills in many of the states seems uncertain. While five states and the District of Columbia are under Democratic control, 11 others have Republicans in charge in either the governor’s mansion or at least one chamber of the Legislature.
How much the legislation could affect Trump’s electoral college haul is also unclear. All but three of the states where the legislation has been introduced — Arizona, Iowa and Pennsylvania — are Democratic-leaning and voted for Hillary Clinton in November. In New Jersey, it’s difficult to imagine Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump ally, signing the bill. His office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
All the bills’ sponsors are Democrats, except for one Republican in Minnesota.
New Jersey Republicans voted against the measure in committee and decried the idea as pandering. Republican Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll introduced amendments to require the same disclosure among gubernatorial and legislative candidates but was blocked. “What’s a little double-standard among friends?” Carroll said.
Carroll specifically pointed to Democratic front-runner Phil Murphy releasing five years’ worth of taxes, but facing criticism for not sharing more. Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s tax returns have been disclosed every year since she was elected, going back to 2010.
Supporters and opponents of the tax-return disclosure idea, as well as election law experts, agree it is likely to be challenged in courts if enacted.
“It’s a certainty there’ll be a challenge,” said Richard Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California, Irvine.
McKeon says he expects the measures would be upheld based on the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision that hinged in part on states’ constitutional ability to decide presidential electors.
But Carroll and Hasen raised red flags, in particular, the fact that the Constitution places only three limits on potential presidents: that he or she be a “natural born” citizen, at least 35 years old and a resident of the country for 14 years.
WHICH STATES ARE PROPOSING DISCLOSURE
The states considering the issue are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia, along with the District of Columbia.