Home>Governor>CA Senate Passes Bill to Force Presidential Candidates to Release Tax Returns to be on State Ballot

Sen. Mike McGuire. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)
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CA Senate Passes Bill to Force Presidential Candidates to Release Tax Returns to be on State Ballot

Already vetoed by Gov. Brown, bill remains unconstitutional

By Katy Grimes, May 6, 2019 11:56 am

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? “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?

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.

Katy Grimes

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California's War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?
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9 thoughts on “CA Senate Passes Bill to Force Presidential Candidates to Release Tax Returns to be on State Ballot

  1. Thanks for this good article. Another point, not brought up by anyone in any committee so far, is that the State Constitution appears to bar this bill. Article II, sec. 5c, says “the candidates on the presidential primary ballot are those found by the Secretary of State to be recognized candidates throughout the nation or throughout California.” A state court interpreted that in 1992 in LaRouche v Eu. It ordered the Sec. of State to put Lyndon LaRouche on the Dem. presidential primary ballot, because he was on the ballots of other states, and discussed in the news media. It is impossible for anyone to argue that Donald Trump isn’t a “recognized” candidate.

  2. Senator Mike McGuire and all the other State Senators who voted for this law are fully aware that this law is unconstitutional. So why do they try and pass a law that is unconstitutional? Because they hate President Trump. They want to prevent him from being President of the United States without allowing one vote to be cast against or for him. I do not believe these Senators believe in a democratic society. I am sad for this great State of California.

    1. Yes ! This is unconstitutional! I was born & raised in Ca. I am now 68 & ready to move ! Ca. needs help! Do we now live in a dictatorship state. SAD!

  3. #California has the duty to require State politicians within California to provide tax returns and automatically unseal all indictments and investigations prior to elections. It must be done retroactively for fairness.

    Once they do that the rest of the nation can decide.

  4. This bill is outrageous! It’s like a lot of nerdy school kids that gains power over the cool kids that want to exact payback on them! What a juvenile move on their part. Do these Democrats have such low self esteem as to think their presidential candidates are not worthy of a fair contest? Because of that thought they have to concoct this wicked plan to sabotage the Republican presidential candidates? These people are below the pit. I’m losing the last bit of respect for these “legislators”.

  5. This is absurd. The Democrats’ Trump Derangement Syndrome is going to ridiculous, ludicrous levels.
    The Democrats are effectively disenfranching large portions of their state. Keep in mind that Trump received nearly as many votes in California as he did in Texas. (Look it up.)
    The Democrats are getting worse, at least Gov Brown held the high road here.

  6. Huge congratulations to California for leading the nation by codifying this recently-trampled precedent. We the voters need to know if our President is corrupt or has foreign entanglements and this is the best way to do it.
    There are numerous reasons why this presidential tax transparency requirement is on sound legal foundation. Here are a few:
    1) The core justification for such a law is provided by the Emoluments Clause (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 ) of the US. constitution. The clause states “No Person holding any Office of…Trust, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument…from any …foreign State.” This requirement is on sound constitutional footing by ensuring transparency for this clause.
    2) This requirement is likely constitutional (according to at least one AG and numerous legal scholars) as it is merely an extension of the existing 1978 Ethics in Government Act that requires financial disclosure and which was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1988.
    3) Presidential tax returns transparency is not novel or unduly-burdensome – Presidents have been required to release financial disclosure files since the 1978 Ethics in Gov’t Act, which was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1988.
    4) There is a long tradition of this constitutional precedent – 46 years of tradition dating back to Richard Nixon releasing his returns in 1973.
    5) This requirement is non-partisan – The measure is politically neutral; affecting all candidates who wish to appear on a primary or general election ballot in the state equally.
    Visit presidentialtransparency.org to assist in the passage of this and other similar state laws.

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