California has thrown down a gauntlet in front of President Donald Trump after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that would require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns before they could be listed on the state's primary ballot.
"As one of the largest economies in the world and home to one in nine Americans eligible to vote, California has a special responsibility to require this information of presidential and gubernatorial candidates,” Newsom said in a statement after signing the bill approved by the Legislature earlier this month. "These are extraordinary times and states have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confidence. The disclosure required by this bill will shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interest.
"The United States Constitution grants states the authority to determine how their electors are chosen, and California is well within its constitutional right to include this requirement," Newsom added.
The measure, signed by the Democratic governor, is aimed at Trump who has so far refused to release his tax returns, claiming they're currently being audited. Newsom, who released five years worth of returns when he ran for governor of the nation's most populous state, has often criticized Trump for his failure to release his returns.
The new law requires all candidates for president and governor of California to submit their tax return information to California's secretary of state at least 98 days before the primary is held. The returns are then posted online for public view. The law does not appear to prevent candidates who do not release their tax returns from appearing on a general election ballot.
So far, most major 2020 Democratic candidates have released their tax returns ahead of the 2020 primaries.
The law is likely to be challenged in court as the Trump administration has indicated they will sue over the law. Newsom's predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, vetoed a similar bill in 2017, arguing that it could set a bad precedent and was unlikely to survive a court challenge.
"Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?” Brown wrote. "Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?"
Trump could also sidestep the issue of releasing his returns entirely by refusing to compete in California's primary, which is scheduled to held on March 3, 2020. California pushed their primary up by three months two years ago in an attempt to have a greater impact on deciding presidential candidates.
Lawmakers in New York passed similar legislation in March that would allow the New York Department of Taxation and Finance to release any state tax return that is requested by the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, or the Joint Committee on Taxation for any "specific and legitimate legislative purpose."
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