Bill would require presidential candidates to disclose tax returns

Jacob Candelaria

Taking aim at Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s refusal to disclose his personal income tax returns, a state Senate Democrat said Wednesday he’ll introduce legislation that would require presidential candidates to release their personal income tax returns before appearing on the New Mexico general election ballot.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque said he’ll propose a bill in the legislative session beginning this month to require that presidential candidates submit their most recent five years’ worth of tax returns to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office before their names can appear on a general election ballot.

“This past presidential election proved that time honored traditions and political norms are no longer enough to ensure that presidential candidates meet the basic threshold of transparency they owe to the public by releasing their tax returns,” Candelaria said in a news release. “New Mexico voters deserve to know if any potential conflicts of interest or financial improprieties may exist. It’s unbelievable that President-elect Donald Trump failed to provide the public with the most basic financial information disclosed by every major party nominee in the last 40 years.”

Several other states — all of which, like New Mexico, were won in November by Democrat Hillary Clinton — are considering similar legislation. Such a move would be groundbreaking. No state in the U.S., at least in modern history, has kept a major-party candidate off the ballot for any reason.

“I know it’s unprecedented,” Candelaria said in an interview. “But this is an unprecedented situation. Donald Trump seems to think the rules don’t apply to him. It’s worth having a conversation about this issue. [The states] control our own ballots. If Congress will not act, if our national leaders won’t step up to the plate and do what’s right, the states will have to do it.”

Candelaria’s news release included a quote in support of his proposal from University of New Mexico law professor Mary Pareja.

“States have a critical interest in ensuring this basic level of transparency,” Pareja said. “Tax returns have the potential to reveal foreign entanglements and other conflicts of interest that could impair a candidate’s ability to act in the best interest of the American people. Tax returns also can shed light on a candidate’s approach toward tax compliance — whether he or she is concerned more with scrupulous compliance or with skirting the rules.”

But least one one of Candelaria’s Senate colleagues, Republican Sander Rue of Albuquerque, is skeptical.

“I know what Jacob’s trying to do and I respect that,” said Rue, who is known as a champion of government transparency. “But this is an issue that would be better dealt with at the national level in a uniform way.”

Trump faced heat during his campaign for saying he wouldn’t release his returns because the Internal Revenue Service was auditing them. IRS officials said there was no legal barrier to taxpayers disclosing their tax returns under audit.

President Richard Nixon released his returns while serving in the White House even though his taxes were being audited.

But while all major-party presidential candidates since Nixon have made their tax returns public, there is no law that makes that mandatory. In May, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced legislation that would have required major-party nominees to release at least three years’ worth of tax returns to the Federal Election Commission. The bill stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Wyden said after Trump’s victory that he would reintroduce the bill, though there’s no evidence the legislation would fare better than the first measure.

The Washington Post reported that two Maryland legislators — both Democrats — announced they would introduce a bill mandating the release of five years’ worth of tax returns for presidential candidates. There are similar proposals in New York, Massachusetts, California and Maine, the Post said. In New York, the bill is called the Tax Returns Made Uniformly Public Act — abbreviated as the TRUMP Act.

Candelaria said that if his bill passes the Legislature, he will publicly disclose his income tax returns. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” he said.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell @sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/news/blogs/politics.

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