Democrat lawmakers are trying again to pass a law to require all candidates for President to provide their income tax returns to the California Secretary of State as a precondition for appearing on a California primary election ballot, with Senate Bill 27 by State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). The bill is largely designed to prevent President Donald Trump from appearing on the California primary ballot if he does not make the documents public.
SB 27 passed the Senate Thursday, 27-10.
There are 19 states proposing this same bill, however it would take a constitutional amendment to modify federal elections criteria on a federal level. Article II of the Constitution provides the criteria for presidential candidates.
California Globe covered a hearing on the bill in March, at which, Richard Winger of Ballot Access News was the only opponent of the bill who addressed the lack of Constitutionality of SB 27. Winger gave a brief history of government printed ballots with respect to the cases of states opposing who is allowed on the ballot. Winger explained that not only do states not control who gets on the ballot for federal office, “tax returns have nothing to do with election administration.”
Winger said there were 12 cases where criminals were running for office, and there was not one dissent from any court, upholding their right to run.
“It’s Unconstitutional because it directly or indirectly creates a new eligibility requirement that Article II of the Constitution doesn’t fathom,” said Sen. Minority Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield). “We could also require candidates to make public their birth certificates,” she added. “In the end, Sacramento is once again deciding that it knows better than the millions of Californians, that may vote on a Republican ballot next year, and millions of Californians that will vote on a general ballot next year.”
Winger’s warning still stands.
It is also notable that Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed an identical bill in 2017, warning:
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.
Gov. Brown did not release his tax returns while he was in office.
“We believe that President Trump, if he truly doesn’t have anything to hide, should step up and release his tax returns,” said Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat from Healdsburg and the co-author of the bill along with Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, KTLA reported.
Constitutional integrity trumps what lawmakers want or wish. Gov. Jerry Brown had it right when he said, “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?”
Because Gov. Gavin Newsom released his tax returns when he ran for governor, many say he is likely to sign this bill into law, sending the Constitutionality issue straight to the courts.