North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) aren’t letting a veto on a previous version of a tax transparency bill stop them. They’re trying to gain approval on a bill that would require presidential candidates to release the past five years of tax returns in order to be listed on a California state ballot.
And at least one major thing has changed since the bill was last introduced — this time around it comes down to whether or not newly elected Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign the bill into law.
In a prepared statement, McGuire tied the issue to President Donald Trump’s perceived allies.
“Voters not only deserve full disclosure of their leader’s tax returns, they should be entitled to them,” McGuire said. “If President Trump had released his tax returns we would know why he’s ignoring his own intelligence agencies and snuggling up to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who has been linked to the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi.”
He added that transparency is critical.
“Transparency is a nonpartisan issue and it’s time to put the speculation to bed and bring to light any conflicts of interest that could drive an American president into the arms of a foreign power,” McGuire said.
The 2017 version of the bill passed both the state Assembly and the Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
“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,” Brown wrote in his veto message in October 2017. “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?”
The language of the 2018 version of the bill shows only minor changes in the language of the bill, aside from the addition of an urgency clause which would accelerate the process of implementation to have it take effect before the 2020 filing deadline for presidential candidates.
Wiener said Monday afternoon that while he appreciates Brown’s humor in his veto messages — something he said he would miss — he does not believe that the request for transparency on tax returns represents a slippery slope.
“I have tremendous respect for Gov. Brown, but Sen. McGuire and I disagree,” Wiener told the Times-Standard. “I don’t think it is a slippery slope at all. This is not making a new qualification; this is an administrative requirement.”
He added, “There is a big, big difference between tax returns to show a conflict of interest and report cards.”
And while the bill targets Trump, who has refrained from sharing his tax returns for several years, Wiener stressed it would apply to all candidates.
“It would true for Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden … whoever is running, we need to know,” he said. “We have a president who appears to have severe financial conflicts, who appears to have sold our country out to Vladimir Putin. Let’s have transparency.”
McGuire also denied the “slippery slope” assessment.
“There is no slippery slope. The chief ethics attorneys for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have reviewed the legislation and declared that they believe it stands the Constitutionality test,” McGuire said in an email to the Times-Standard. “If challenged, we believe not only will we win in court, we will restore transparency and accountability to the office of the president.”
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.