Congress won’t be seeing President Donald Trump’s tax returns any time soon, but that request isn’t the only way Democrats are trying to pry them loose.
So far this year, lawmakers in at least 20 states have introduced bills that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns as a condition for appearing on the state ballot. Critics say such laws could run afoul of the U.S. Constitution and lead future legislatures to place all kinds of other restrictions on candidates.
But that hasn’t stopped Democratic lawmakers from trying.
“I would like to see it passed and signed into law and send a very strong message as to how we believe candidates for office should behave,” said New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat and sponsor of legislation passed by the state Senate in February.
Her measure would require presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose five years’ worth of returns at least 50 days before the general election. It hasn’t received a hearing in the Assembly, which also is controlled by Democrats.
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he would not comply with a congressional deadline to hand over Trump’s returns. In a letter, he said the House Ways and Means Committee “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose” for the records. The denial likely sets up a court battle between the administration and Democrats, who control the House.
In addition to New Jersey, at least four other states — California, Hawaii, Illinois and Rhode Island — have had one legislative chamber pass similar legislation this year. It’s also in the Minnesota House’s government finance bill.
The bills have been considered but spiked in Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Virginia and Washington. They’ll face tough battles in Republican-controlled Arizona, North Carolina and Ohio. And they remain alive — if not necessarily a top priority — in Connecticut, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
In a separate but somewhat related maneuver, the New York state Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill to release Trump’s state tax returns to congressional investigators.
There is no federal requirement for presidential candidates to disclose their private financial information, but it’s a custom every other president since the Watergate era has followed.
Democrats have been pushing to see the documents since Trump was a candidate three years ago, but legal challenges are expected if any governors sign the legislation into law. In New Jersey, the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services concluded that the legislature does not have the authority to require tax returns from candidates.
Democrats “are so desperate to defeat President Trump that they have stooped to using the state legislature as an unconstitutional political weapon to block him from even appearing on the ballot,” Doug Steinhardt, chairman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee, said in a statement.
He said his party would challenge the requirement in court if it becomes law.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat and former Goldman Sachs executive, has criticized Trump for failing to release his taxes. But Murphy himself has failed to make his taxes totally available to the public, instead allowing reporters a several-hours-long window to review them.
Murphy spokesman Mahen Gunaratna said the administration generally doesn’t comment on pending legislation.
So far, the only state where both legislative chambers have passed a similar measure is California, where then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it in 2017 citing constitutional concerns. Brown, a Democrat, never released his own tax returns.
The state Senate last week passed a nearly identical bill, hoping its fate will be different under Gov. Gavin Newsom. The first-year governor has released his own tax returns and embraced his role as a national “resistance” leader to Trump and his policies.
“We believe that President Trump, if he truly doesn’t have anything to hide, should step up and release his tax returns,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat sponsoring the California bill.