Several state lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that they say would force President Donald Trump to make public some of his tax returns.
President Trump broke with a more than forty year tradition of Presidential candidates, and Presidents, voluntarily releasing their tax returns. Trump has said he can’t release his returns because he is under audit. In the 1970’s, President Richard Nixon began the practice of releasing the tax filings, even though Nixon himself was under federal audit at the time. Since then, every President has voluntarily released his tax returns.
Democrats in the New York State legislature say they’d like to make that practice mandatory, not voluntary, and believe they have the power to do it.
Assemblyman David Buchwald, who is also a tax attorney, says the bill also covers both US Senators and statewide elected officials including the Governor, State Comptroller, and State Attorney General, all of whom routinely make their tax returns available.
“This would be a good piece of legislation regardless of who is President,” said Buchwald, a Democrat from Mt. Kisco.
But of course the focus is on Trump, and Senate sponsor Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, says it fills a gap in the US constitution regarding Presidents and their business dealings.
“The bottom line is, Presidents are not subject to the same conflict of interest laws as most federal officials,” said Hoylman. “That is why it is so important that we know what President Trump is hiding in his tax returns.”
The bill would not require Trump to release his federal tax returns. New York does not have the power to do that. But state tax filings also include attachments for capital gains taxes and pass-throughs for income from business partnerships.
Democratic Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, of Albany, sponsors a bill that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to qualify for the New York ballot, starting in the 2020 elections. Fahy says it’s especially important to know about the former real estate developer and reality TV star’s business deadlines, as the President issues a tax-cutting proposal to Congress.
“He could benefit to the tune of millions and millions of dollars,” said Fahy, who likened the situation to a “bad novel”.
The measures are expected to come to the floor for a vote in the Assembly in the next month, where it could likely pass. The bigger obstacle is the state Senate. It has Democratic sponsors, but Democrats are in the minority there. The Senate is ruled by a coalition of Republicans and independent Democrats.
Senate sponsor Hoylman is hopeful that votes will materialize in the Senate, due to a “groundswell” of public support. He cites rallies held across the country April 15th, tax day, asking Trump to release his returns, and polls showing 80% of the public want the tax returns released, including 64% of Republicans.
“I think this is drawing a line in the sand. Are you for transparency” Hoylman said. “Or are we going to remain in the dark?”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference says members “support” the measure and also want to see Trump’s tax returns. “Our country deserves to know about the business dealings of our President,” said IDC spokeswoman Candace Giove.
A statement from the Independent Democrats’ governing partners, the Senate Republicans, was not as encouraging. A spokesman for the GOP says while they are “always happy to have a serious discussion about what constitutes sound public policy for the state of New York”. But spokesman Scott Reif says the bills sound like “a P.R. stunt”.