California governor signs legislation forcing Trump to show tax returns before he can appear on ballot


California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation, effectively immediately, that mandates presidential candidates can’t appear on California’s primary ballot unless they’ve submitted five years of their tax returns. Candidates for governor have the same requirements under the new law.

The legislation doesn’t specifically name President Trump, who has officially launched his re-election campaign, but he has steadfastly refused to release his returns.

The “Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act,” or Senate Bill 27, will order any candidate running for president or governor in California to turn over their last five years of tax returns to the Secretary of State.

Governor Newsom said in a statement that California had a “special responsibility” to ensure the information was made public, citing the state’s disproportionate number of the country’s voters.

In signing the bill into law, Newsom said such financials are key to restoring and ensuring the public’s confidence in their elected officials.

“These are extraordinary times and states have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confidence,” Newsom’s statement said, adding the bill would help to “shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interest.”

The legislation also contains an “urgency clause” which will cause it to take effect immediately.

However, Newsom has been a vocal critic of Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public. And this move – approved in the California Legislature along strict party lines – is sure to stir controversy and likely be challenged in court.

As Tim Murtagh, communications director for Trump’s re-election campaign, told the Los Angeles Times:

“The Constitution is clear on the qualifications for someone to serve as president and states cannot add additional requirements on their own. The bill also 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 election.”

The issue also, as the Times explains, raises questions about whether states have the right to decide whose names appear on the ballot for president:

“I’m sure it’ll be challenged, but I have no confidence in predicting what the courts are going to do,” said Richard L. Hasen, a UC Irvine election law professor.

One likely courtroom argument was provided by California’s last governor. Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2017, arguing it was unlikely to pass constitutional muster and would set a bad precedent.

“Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?” Brown wrote in his veto message. “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?”

The White House is expected to challenge the new legislation in the courts; however, President Trump could also avoid the tax returns stipulation by simply skipping California’s primary altogether, as the state’s electoral college is not likely to cast votes in favor of the president regardless.

California’s first attempt to pass similar legislation failed in 2017, after then-Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill.

“Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?” Brown wrote in his veto message. “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?”

The president’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, responded to the passing of the California law, saying Trump expects to challenge it in court.

“The State of California’s attempt to circumvent the Constitution will be answered in court,” Sekulow said in a statement.