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Judge blocks tax disclosure bill aimed at Trump

People at a 2017 Laguna Beach rally demanding to see Trump's tax returns. (Photo: Steve Bruckmann

A federal judge on Thursday tentatively blocked a new California law requiring presidential and gubernatorial contenders in California’s primary elections to release five years of tax returns — a law that was aimed squarely at President Donald Trump.

U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. said he will issue a final ruling by Oct. 1. In his preliminary injunction. England cited constitutional grounds for his decision, saying disclosure isn’t a constitutional requirement to seek office. Morrison, in a bench ruling, sided with Trump, the conservative legal activist group Judicial Watch, and others.

The state was considering whether to appeal.

McGuire’s bill, called the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, requires candidates to  turn over the records to the state by November.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the measure, SB 27 by Sen. Mike Maguire (D-Healdsburg), on July 3o, saying the “disclosure required by this bill will shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interest.” In his runs for mayor of San Francisco, lieutenant governor and governor, Newsom had released his taxes. His predecessor Jerry Brown, had opposed the measure and had declined to release his taxes.

Trump, departing from tradition dating back to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaigns,  declined to unveil his tax returns during the 2016 elections. He faces legal actions in several arenas seeking access to his taxes, including in Congress and a subpoena by New York state prosecutors investigating alleged hush-money payments to an adult film performer who alleged she had an affair with Trump. Several other states are considering similar legislation.

McGuire’s bill, called the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, requires candidates to  turn over the records to the state by November. From there, the documents will be posted online.

“There’s an easy fix for the President. He should release his tax returns as he promised during the campaign and follow the precedent of every president since 1973,” Newsom said earlier.

In the Republican party primary, a total of 172 California delegates — including 159 district level delegates — are up for grabs for the GOP’s national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“California politicians, in their zeal to attack President Trump, passed a law that also unconstitutionally victimizes California voters.” — Tom Fitton

Just days after SB 27 was enacted, Judicial Watch filed a complaint in the Eastern District of California, calling for an injunction on behalf of four California voters — two Republicans, one independent, and one Democrat — in response to the law.

Judicial Watch said SB 27 infringes on California voters’ right to “associate with candidates who choose to preserve their privacy by declining to release their tax returns,” and as a result violates the voters’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

“California politicians, in their zeal to attack President Trump, passed a law that also unconstitutionally victimizes California voters,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. “It is an obvious legal issue that a state can’t amend the U.S. Constitution by adding qualifications in order to run for president. The courts can’t stop this abusive law fast enough.”

The Judicial Watch complaint was followed by a pair of lawsuits filed by the Trump Administration and the Republican National Committee. The lawsuits also alleged that SB 27 is unconstitutional, since it would add an additional prerequisite for a candidate to run for president. The constitution only says that a person has to be at least 35, a natural born citizen, and a resident of the US for at least fourteen years if they intend to run for president. The suit filed by the Trump Administration cites the Supreme Court in saying that these are the ‘exclusive qualifications’ for federal office.

“Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards?” — Jerry Brown

Backers of the law said SB 27 is an effective tool for ensuring the accountability of the candidates, and that it is meant to help California voters make more informed choices when voting.

California “has a special interest in the president refraining from corrupt or self-enriching behaviors while in office. The people of California can better estimate the risks of any given Presidential candidate engaging in corruption or the appearance of corruption if they have access to candidates’ tax returns,” the law reads.

In 2017, a similar bill made it through the state Legislature that was vetoed by the Brown. At the time, Brown thought such legislation would be a “slippery slope.”

“Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards?” Brown said when he vetoed the bill. “Will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?” When he ran for office, Brown declined to release his tax records.

Bills pertaining to disclosure of candidates’ tax returns have already failed in several states, including Virginia, Oregon, New Mexico, and New Hampshire. Other bills are still active in the legislatures for ten states, including Delaware, Hawaii, New York and New Jersey. Nationwide, California is the only state to have enacted a law of this kind.

Editor’s Note: Capitol Weekly intern Joaquin Romero contributed to this story.


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