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Opinion

Editorial: California’s bill requiring candidates to show their tax returns is partisan and counterproductive

California Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
(Los Angeles Times)

It’s understandable that Gov. Gavin Newsom would want to set himself apart from his predecessor and show the world that he’s not just Jerry Brown 2.0. But by signing a very problematic bill on Tuesday — one that Brown vetoed in 2017 — Newsom took a slap at President Trump that is hyperpartisan, probably counterproductive and perhaps even unconstitutional.

The “Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act” is clearly directed at Trump, who as a candidate bucked the modern tradition of releasing his tax returns during the campaign. The new law requires that candidates for president in California release five years of tax records before they can be included on the state’s primary ballot.

This means Trump must turn over his tax documents in the 2020 election or be left off California’s March primary ballot. Hah. Take that Mr. Trump. Will this damage Trump’s reelection bid? Of course not. No matter what happens in California’s primary, Trump’s name is likely to be on the November general election ballot in all states. And the only people hurt by his failure to appear on the primary ballot are the millions of California Republicans who will be denied the right to pick the candidate of their choice.

To be clear: Presidential candidates ought to share their tax documents with the public. Trump’s refusal to do so was arrogant, and left the country rightly wondering what conflicts of interests he has and just how little he has been paying in taxes.

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But adding new requirements for candidates is a bad idea. If California adds this partisan requirement as a slap at Trump, what’s to stop red states from adding a requirement that candidates release their birth certificates? Will some states require candidates to release their health records? Do we really want every state to have its own requirements governing who can run for president? That’s a recipe for confusion.

If voters think a candidate should have released his tax returns, they can punish him or her at the polls on election day.

The new law also may be unconstitutional. As we have pointed out in editorials more than once, states have the authority to regulate some ballot access for federal elections, including applying fees and requiring candidates to gather a certain number of signatures. But it’s not clear if states have the legal right to place further restrictions on the qualifications of presidential candidates beyond what is already required by the U.S. Constitution — that a candidate be 35 years old, a natural-born U.S. citizen and a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years.

If other states take similar action, it may well deepen the partisan divide that has roiled politics and turned Americans against one another. How does that help?


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