Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Running for President? Some States Want Tax Returns Public

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Running for President? Some States Want Tax Returns Public

Article excerpt

HONOLULU * 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 refused 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 the legislation 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.

Some legal experts raised similar flags, saying states do not have the power to create additional qualifications for the office of the president. That's up to the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that states and the federal government cannot add to the qualifications of senators and congressional representatives outlined in the Constitution. Some legal experts said that guidance likely would extend to the office of the president.

"I think a requirement of revealing one's tax returns would be regarded as an additional qualification," said Michael McConnell, a professor at Stanford Law School. …

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