For the past two years, the search for Donald Trump’s unseen tax returns has been something of a quest for the Holy Grail, an elusive trophy that could unlock the mysteries of our political universe. Lacking real proof as to what the president’s tax documents might show, the imagination swells with possibility: Russia ties? Massive personal debts? A wealth substantially lower than his self-reported $10 billion fortune? Something nefarious? The best efforts of Trump’s political opponents have turned up little by way of tax returns. Ditto the intrepid work of a nation of journalists; despite reporters obtaining a few different pieces of paperwork—as in the New York Times’ report last fall, or Rachel Maddow’s glimpse at two pages of Trump’s 2005 returns two weeks ago—the knowledge gained by any of these leaks has been dwarfed by the new questions raised. Trump keeps insisting that because his returns are under audit, he can’t possibly release them. And the Republican-led Congress, save a few renegades like South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, evince little interest in compelling the president to disclose them.
Now, though, a band of state lawmakers is attempting to succeed where so many others have failed. In at least 24 states, legislators have introduced bills that would force Trump (and all other presidential candidates) to disclose their tax returns in order to qualify for their states’ ballots in 2020.
There’s one big obstacle, though: Requiring presidential candidates to release their taxes as a condition of ballot access may not be constitutional. And even if it is, the Democrats sponsoring such legislation run the risk of major retaliatory measures being taken in Republican states.