One of the many political norms rebuffed by President-elect Donald Trump was the tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns for public scrutiny. It is not a legal requirement of running for president, but, in the interest of transparency, most presidential candidates do release their returns. If state lawmakers in a number of states have their way, that will change — and, if Trump wants to run for reelection, he will not be able to avoid financial disclosure again.
As we previously reported, state legislators in California and New York were working on legislation that would make disclosure of tax returns a requirement for presidential candidates to get on the ballot. Now, state lawmakers in a number of other states are joining the emergent campaign.
A pair of Maryland Democrats on Tuesday announced they would introduce a bill mandating the release of five years of tax returns, mirroring similar proposals in New York, Massachusetts, California and Maine.
…“We all expected anyone who is going to be in front of the public and lead our nation would be transparent,” said Maryland Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, who plans to sponsor the legislation with Del. Jimmy Tarlau, a fellow Prince George's County Democrat. “He chose not to be, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen again in the future from any candidate.”
If this legislation catches on, it would provide an opportunity for voters to meaningfully assess any potential conflicts of interest in any presidential candidate, which has clearly taken on a whole new urgency in the era of Trump.
Further, it could prevent a repeat of a tremendously harmful dynamic that played out in the last election, as explained by T.R. Ramachandran:
Lack of access and reliance on new or unknown sources often forces journalists to be a lot more thoughtful and careful about how they interpret and explain the material they receive. In contrast, when we look at some of the worst journalism in 2016 — e.g., myriad stories implying corruption with the Clinton Foundation, despite the lack of any such evidence — you will notice a common thread: the easy access that the media had to the relevant information, because Clinton had disclosed virtually all of the relevant information for those stories voluntarily.
The proposed legislation to mandate financial disclosures could avert a reiteration of such imbalanced reporting as a result of unequal scrutiny, simply by virtue of asymmetric transparency.
That is, if every candidate is required to disclose financial records, one candidate cannot be "punished" for their willingness to be meaningfully transparent with voters, while the other skates by largely unscrutinized.
This is a good development, and we are pleased to see Democratic state legislators leading the charge.
Unfortunately, Republican state legislators have yet to demonstrate a similar interest in requiring accountability from their candidates, even as their president-elect is poised to commit an impeachable offense on Day One.