Bills in Oregon, 17 other states, require public tax returns for presidential candidates
If President Donald Trump runs for re-election, he may be required to make his tax returns public if he wants to appear on Oregon’s ballot.
House Bill 2909 was introduced in the Oregon House earlier this week. It would require any candidate for president or vice president to give five years’ worth of his or her federal tax returns to the state’s secretary of state. It would also require the candidate to provide written consent to have those records released to the public. If the candidate refused, he or she wouldn’t appear on the state’s general election ballot or in the state’s voters’ pamphlet.
During the presidential campaign Trump, a Republican, refused to release his tax returns, and so far he has refused to do so as president.
Presidential candidates aren’t required to release their tax returns, but Trump was the first major-party presidential nominee not to voluntarily do so since the 1970s.
Critics have argued that it is in the public interest for a presidential candidate to release his tax returns, and Democrats, especially, have been suspicious about what’s in Trump’s returns, especially anything that provides insight into any business dealings with Russia.
In response, Oregon and several other states have introduced bills in their legislatures to compel presidential and vice presidential candidates to make their tax returns public.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 17 states as of Feb. 11 that have had bills introduced that are similar to Oregon’s. Trump won five of those states (see above map).
While most of the bills are sponsored by Democrats, two Republicans have sponsored bills in Kansas and Minnesota.
It is not clear who's behind Oregon’s bill. House rules allow a bill to be introduced on the behest of a committee. In Oregon’s case, the bill is sponsored by the Committee on Rules.
Rep. Jennifer Williamson, a Democrat from Portland, chairs that committee.
Scott Moore, spokesman for the House Democrats, said many Democrats in the House have for a while been discussing the idea, including Williamson and Rep. Margaret Doherty, a Democrat from Tigard.
“Voters deserve to be fully informed about the individuals running for President,” Moore said in a statement. “Tax returns provide valuable information about presidential candidates and their business dealings. … The public is in the dark about (Donald Trump’s) business dealings, particularly in foreign countries. It could very well be a matter of national security.”
Oregon’s bill would also prohibit an elector in the Electoral College from casting a vote for a presidential candidate who didn’t provide tax returns or written consent for their public disclosure.
Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University, said any bill like Oregon’s that becomes law will likely run into a court roadblock. If the law is challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, it will likely be struck down.
The U.S. Constitution is “pretty clear that to qualify to run for the president of the United States, you need to be age 35, you need to have gone through whatever the party’s election process is, and when you have reached that stage, then the states with those political parties put you on the ballot,” he said.
In other words, there’s nothing in the Constitution that requires a presidential candidate to release tax returns.
Moore said if Oregon’s bill is passed, he would expect it to include a provision that all candidates for every political office would be required to release their tax returns.
“If it doesn’t, then it’s clearly just an anti-Trump bill,” he said.
While states try to take matters into their own hands, Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, has tried to push his own bill to require those who have been nominated for president to release their tax returns.
He has also repeatedly called on Trump to voluntarily release his.
Oregon House Republicans didn’t respond to an email requesting comment on this story, but on Wednesday House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, called on fellow lawmakers to end the practice of introducing anonymous committee bills, which was done when the Rules Committee introduced the bill requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.
Republicans said the practice keeps the public from knowing who is behind a bill.