Lawmakers in nearly half the states want to add a requirement for presidential candidates: Show us your tax returns. The issue has dogged President Donald Trump, who became the first presidential candidate in modern times to refuse to make his returns public. It flared anew this week after MSNBC said it had obtained two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal return, prompting the administration to release the documents preemptively. State lawmakers around the country, mostly Democrats, want to ensure transparency in future presidential campaigns so voters can evaluate candidates’ sources of income and any possible conflicts of interest. Most of the bills would require presidential contenders to release copies of their returns as a condition for appearing on that state’s ballot, although it’s unclear whether they could pass constitutional muster. The aim is to find out about potential conflicts that candidates might have before they take office, said Hawaii Rep. Chris Lee, a Democrat who introduced one of the Hawaii bills.
“With what we’ve seen so far with this administration, there are clear conflicts with respect to whether or not parts of the president’s business empire are directly benefiting from federal contracts to house Secret Service at his own hotels, for example, or pressuring foreign dignitaries or other corporations indirectly to patronize the businesses that the president or his children run,” Lee said. “And the real question is, What else don’t we know?”
Hawaii was the first state to have votes on the bills before the full Legislature. The Democratically controlled House and Senate recently passed separate but largely similar measures, which would prevent the state’s delegates to the Electoral College from voting for candidates who withheld their tax forms.
Lawmakers are likely to send just one of those to Hawaii Gov. David Ige, a Democrat who expressed concerns about whether the proposed changes are constitutional. He said he does not think the state can place limits on the presidential election that are inconsistent with how the election is conducted around the country.