Across the United States, concerned interests continue to grapple with the corruption that President Donald Trump has wrought. This week, the Washington state Senate passed a measure that would force presidential candidates to release their most recent five years of tax returns in order to appear on either the primary or the general election ballot in the state.
The bill now proceeds to the state House, which is under Democratic control and therefore more inclined to pass the measure. Unlike one of the most recent high-profile times state legislators tackled a similar measure in New Jersey under Chris Christie, Washington also has a Democratic governor, Jay Inslee — who himself is among the many declared Democratic candidates for president in 2020. He could easily sign the bill as a statement of his commitment to transparency, which at least on the level of the decades-long tradition for presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their tax returns, didn’t need to be legislated into existence until Donald Trump came around.
If Washington’s measure does become law, it would no doubt spark numerous legal battles, but before Tuesday’s Senate vote, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and solicitor general Noah Purcell issued a letter explaining that they both supported the legality of the proposal. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has issued that states can not add their own qualifications to races for Congress, states are generally legally permitted to decide how presidential elections proceed within their borders.
Bill sponsor Sen. Patty Kuderer (D) asserted that presidential candidates’ tax returns have “become part of the vetting process” ahead of elections, since they would allow for close scrutiny of what financial ties weigh on the contender. Trump has avoided that scrutiny, at one point promising to release his tax returns but then explicitly abandoning that promise once he got in office. At his post-midterm elections press conference, he reiterated his stance, claiming his tax returns would be too complicated for people to understand anyway.
The Washington state measure is far from the only way that Democrats are pursuing the material, however. Recently, the Democratic majority in the U.S. House passed H.R. 1, otherwise known as the For the People Act, which as one of their top legislative pushes included an array of ethics reforms — like the demand for presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their past ten years of business and personal tax returns.
Efforts don’t end there either. There’s also the option for Democrats to use the power associated with their new majority status in the House to get the president’s tax returns. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) is allowed to request citizens’ tax returns from the Treasury Department, although in that case, the documents would not be revealed publicly. Still, he could prepare a report.
There’s also the looming option of using a subpoena to go after the documents. In recent public Congressional testimony, former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen insisted that Democrats should go after the material since it would contain more information on his allegations against the president of various forms of financial fraud.
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