In case you missed it, the nation’s smallest state just passed the biggest piece of legislation to provide financial transparency on the part of future preside!ntial candidates. On a 34-3 vote, the Rhode Island State Senate passed a bill that would require presidential candidates to release their last five years of federal tax returns in order to be placed on the ballot in presidential years. The bill now moves on to the House of Representatives where it is expected to pass by a similar margin.
Every presidential candidate for the last forty years has released their federal tax returns. The exception has been Donald Trump. He has given as a reason why he can’t release his tax returns that they are under audit. However, as far back as 2016, the Internal Revenue Service has stated that “nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.” It is safe to say that being under audit is not a credible reason for a failure to provide transparency into a presidential candidate’s tax return.
One of the primary reasons for releasing a presidential candidate’s federal tax return is to determine whether or not the candidate may have any financial conflicts of interest which may impact his or her presidency. Another reason which is at least as important is what is the nature and extent of the candidate’s contributions to charitable organizations. Both of these reasons would certainly apply to Donald Trump who has failed to separate himself from his businesses and has apparently violated the laws of New York state regarding his charitable foundation.
A comprehensive discussion of Trump’s conflicts of interest regarding his business interests can be found in this article. According to The New York Times, regarding Trump’s misuse of his charitable foundation, “the New York State attorney general’s office filed a scathingly worded lawsuit on Thursday taking aim at the Donald J. Trump Foundation, accusing the charity and the Trump family of sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign.” The full scope of the lawsuit can be found in this article. Suffice to say, requiring the disclosure of a presidential candidate’s tax returns would have been beneficial to the electorate prior to going into the voting booth.
In order to avoid such occurrences in the future, it would seem wise for state legislatures to enact legislation like that of Rhode Island before the 2020 election. President Trump would, of course, have to release five years of his federal income tax returns. Failure to do so would keep him or any other candidate off the ballot. This legislation should be reasonable for most state legislators. Who would vote against making the election process more transparent?