The Slatest

California Passes Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Release Tax Returns to Get on the Ballot

Donald Trump votes for himself.
Donald Trump votes in the 2016 presidential election on Nov. 8, 2016 in New York.
Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Tuesday a requirement for candidates to release their tax returns in order to participate in the state’s presidential primaries. The law is clearly aimed at President Donald Trump and his no-show taxes and will likely result in high-stakes legal challenges from the Trump campaign and its allies. California, the country’s most populous state, has used its significant economic weight to take the lead in combating Trump administration policies with state laws of its own, which at the moment have the administration and the state locked in more than 40 lawsuits over a range of issues.

The Trump campaign fired back Tuesday after the bill’s signing, declaring the law unconstitutional. “The Constitution is clear on the qualifications for someone to serve as president and states cannot add additional requirements on their own,” a Trump campaign spokesperson said. “The bill also violates the First Amendment right of association since California can’t tell political parties which candidates their members can or cannot vote for in a primary election.” The Trump campaign appears destined to file a lawsuit challenging the measure and could be joined by the Republican National Committee and the California Republican Party.

The tax-return-disclosure requirement was previously vetoed in 2017 due to questions over its constitutionality by former Gov. Jerry Brown, who, along with his Republican opponents, refused to disclose tax returns during his successful campaigns for governor in 2010 and 2014. “A qualified candidate’s ability to appear on the ballot is fundamental to our democratic system,” Brown wrote in his veto message at the time. “For that reason, I hesitate to start down a road that well might lead to an ever escalating set of differing state requirements for presidential candidates.” Newsom, however, signed the bill into law, which requires presidential and gubernatorial candidates to submit five years of tax returns at least three months before the state’s primary. Primary day in California is scheduled for March 3, 2020, which means Trump—and others—would have just over four months to submit returns to the California secretary of state.

“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,” Newsom said in a statement as he signed the legislation. “The disclosure required by this bill will shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interest.”