Among the three dozen bills California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday was state Senate Bill 27, which will require presidential candidates who wish to appear on the state presidential primary ballot to release at least five years of tax returns in order to qualify. The same will be required for candidates for governor in California as well.
The bill was aimed at President Donald Trump, who refused to release his tax returns when he ran for office in 2016.
North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire, who co-authored the bill with fellow Democrat Sen. Scott Weiner, has been focused on getting the measure passed since it was introduced four years ago. McGuire said he believes transparency trumps any counterarguments opponents may propose, including arguments the bill is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment right of association.
“My belief is that transparency and accountability are the foundations of our democracy,” McGuire said on Tuesday. “Tax returns have never been a partisan issue and it’s always been bigger than any one president or election. The president’s refusal to honor 40 years of tradition was the catalyst for the legislation and this is about principle. California has a long history of transparency in elections and this bill is all about equal opportunity.”
A similar measure was vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown last year. In his veto statement, Brown argued that the measure would lead to a slippery slope of other requirements such as college transcripts or health records.
That argument was echoed by Tim Murtaugh, communications director for Trump’s campaign. Murtaugh called the bill unconstitutional and told the Associated Press, “What’s next? five years of health records?” adding the bill violates the First Amendment right of association “since California can’t tell political parties which candidates their members can or cannot vote for in a primary.”
McGuire said that so far all of the current Democratic candidates for president have provided their returns except for three who haven’t disclosed any information at all, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who has provided three years of tax returns.
“I find it fascinating that until Trump was elected this has been a tradition every candidate has followed through on,” McGuire said. “Income tax returns provide voters with essential information about conflicts of interest or the status of business dealings. It’s a pretty low bar to hit.”
State Republicans offered their opposition to the measure claiming there are more pressing issues that need to be addressed rather than picking a fight with Trump.
“California has tangible issues affecting our families such as high gas taxes, homelessness, and housing affordability,” said Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove. “One poll even stated that 53 percent of Californians want to flee the Golden State. Yet, Sacramento Democrats continue to focus on the president instead of being focused on issues that affect everyday Californians’ lives. Gov. Brown vetoed similar legislation saying this requirement is unconstitutional, and I am confident the courts will agree.”
Senator Weiner said the measure passed because it’s aimed at protecting the interests of all Californians and if candidates want to hold the governor’s seat or run for president in the state’s primary, they will get on board with the disclosure requirements.
“All Americans deserve to know that the president is working for their best interest and not just for his own,” Wiener said. “This was never about any single candidate, but about maintaining and strengthening the norms of our democracy. Come 2020 any presidential candidate who hopes to appear on the California ballot will have to show that they will not be using the office of the president, our highest office, for self-gain.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.