Trump should be required to share income tax returns
For the past 40 years, presidential candidates have voluntarily made their tax returns public. That ended with the Trump campaign. Despite campaign promises he would release his income tax returns after the election, Trump reneged on the promise.
After a weekend of massive nationwide protests and marches demanding Donald Trump release his tax returns, Colorado Democrats have joined eight other states in advancing legislation to require future presidential candidates to do so.
As described by Ballotpedia, the Colorado Candidate Disclosure of Income Tax Returns Initiative, which may appear on the 2018 ballot, “would require candidates for certain offices to disclose their five most recent annual income tax returns and provide written consent for the public disclosure of the tax returns.” A list of affected candidates that follows begins with the president and vice president, and ranges down to University of Colorado regents. These are the individuals and organizations covered by the statute.
In other states, but not Colorado, these laws are frequently referred to as the T.R.U.M.P Act: Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public. The bills require candidates to file five years of tax returns with the state Board of Elections at least 70 days before the election.
After personal information is redacted, the documents would be posted online. Failure to comply with this rule would disqualify a candidate from appearing on the ballot.
On Monday, House Bill 1328 passed the Colorado House Finance Committee on a party line 7-5 vote. This bill will require future candidates to disclose five years of income tax returns at least 90 days prior to Election Day in order to qualify for the ballot.
While this bill comes too late to do anything about Donald Trump in this election, it would assure that no future self-proclaimed billionaire could rise to president without revealing the source of his wealth.
That is assuming, of course, that the bill makes it through both houses of the Legislature and gains the governor’s signature. While passage in the House is virtually assured, its fate in the GOP controlled Senate is far less certain. It could be assigned to die in committee, be defeated on the Senate floor, or, less likely, be passed and sent to the governor.
“Tax returns provide voters with essential information about a candidate’s potential conflicts of interest, their business arrangements, their financial standing and their approach to charity and to charitable deductions,” The Denver Post quotes Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Edie Hooten, D-Boulder.
Hooten said at least eight other states are working on similar legislation to Colorado’s requiring tax returns be made public. Six of these states, Hooten reports, were won by Trump in 2016.
In addition to states passing legislation to require publication of tax returns, bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress to require presidential and vice presidential candidates, as well as the sitting president and vice president, to release their tax returns.
Voluntarily disclosing tax returns “has been one of those bi-partisan traditions . . . one of the unwritten rules of American politics,” Hansen said. “We think its time to write these rules down.”
According to polls, 61 to 74 percent of Americans believe Trump should release his tax returns, according to a Denver Post report. A similar number would support federal legislation requiring financial disclosure from presidential and vice presidential candidates. These numbers were reflected in the large turnout of supporters of requiring disclosure who attended the weekend demonstrations.
The party line split by Colorado legislators was a surprise to some supporters of the bill. With polls showing large majorities of voters favoring legislation requiring financial disclosure,
Democratic supporters had hoped for more support from Republicans. But given the growing tradition of legislative rigidity, it was probably naïve to think the two parties could make common cause on as essential an issue as transparency in political funding.
Republicans believe these reforms should be initiated at the federal level, rather than by individual states. Perhaps that would be the best long-term solution, but in the meantime Colorado should move on its own initiative to increase transparency in government by requiring disclosure of the funding behind initiatives like this effort to defeat a bill widely supported by Colorado voters and inhabitants.