Maryland crafts legislation targeting presidential tax return

A Maryland bill that would require all future presidential candidates to release their tax returns passsed the Maryland Senate last week, taking aim at President Trump. 

The Presidential Candidate Tax Transparency Act – which passed the state Senate last week 28-17 – would make Maryland the first state to require future presidential candidates to release their tax returns as a condition of appearing on the ballot, so as to let voters evaluate any potential conflicts of interest.

The bill, if passed, would make Maryland the first state in the union to require a presidential candidate to release his or her tax returns in order to appear on the ballot.

“So the question becomes, how do we know whether there is any conflict in promoting legislation or more, going more deeply, if you don’t have tax returns you don’t know partnerships…so without having that knowledge, I believe we go into a situation fairly blind to potential conflicts,” said the bill’s sponsor Senator Paul G. Pinsky (D-District 22).

If passed by the House of Delegates and signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), the law would require candidates for U.S. president – as well as their running-mates – to provide the Maryland State Board of Elections with copies of their tax returns for the past five years in order to appear on the Maryland ballot. Returns would need to be turned over at least 65 days in advance of the general election so that the Board of Elections could publish them on its website for all to see.

Pinsky cited President Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns as a reason for why his bill should pass, saying in a public statement that the public does not know enough about his potential conflicts of interests. 

When Senator Bryan Simonaire (R-District 31) asked Pinsky whether he thinks members of the General Assembly should also be required to release their tax returns, Pinsky replied that state representatives need not release their tax returns because they have to fill out an ethics form for public disclosure, adding that candidates for President should be held to a higher standard.

“I don’t think what the presidential candidates do for the ethic is comparable to what we do,” Pinsky said.

But Simonaire noted that a federal tax return could be more revealing than the state-required ethics disclosure.

“I think there’s a lot more on your tax return than we disclose – charitable contributions, rent, income – there’s a lot of additional information,” Simonaire said, before asking: “If we’re going to impose that on our federal comrades, would you support doing that to ourselves as well?” 

While an archive maintained by TaxAnalysts, a publisher specializing in tax policy, shows every major party nominee since 1976 (other than President Gerald Ford, who released a summary of his tax data) has released at least some of his recent tax returns to the public for their inspection, candidates have not followed any single standard when it comes to how many years of returns they’ve released. 

When former Senator Robert Dole (R-Kan.) ran for President against Bill Clinton in 1996, he released 30 years of tax returns, while President Ronald Reagan (R) released just one during the 1980 campaign. More recently, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) – currently a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Utah – released two years of returns when he challenged President Barack Obama (D) in 2012.

While the 2016 Democratic candidate for president – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – released returns covering the years 2000 (when she first ran for the U.S. Senate in New York) through 2015, Trump broke tradition by refusing to release any of his tax returns during the campaign. At the time, he claimed he could not release his returns while they were being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, though no IRS rule prohibited him from doing so. Although Trump promised to release his tax returns once the auditing process was complete, both he and administration officials have said that he will not be doing so, claiming voters do not care about them because he was elected President without releasing them in the first place.

Pinsky’s bill is not the only effort by a Maryland Democrat to get a look at Trump’s taxes. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) joined D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine in a lawsuit against Trump, alleging his decision to not divest himself from his family’s international real estate empire could put him in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits U.S. presidents from receiving any payment or gift from a foreign government. Frosh said he hoped to get a record of Trump’s tax returns as part of the case’s discovery process, which continues following a federal judge’s refusal to grant a Department of Justice motion to dismiss.

A similar bill was attempted in last year’s legislation session, failing make it to the vote in the Senate. The House of Delegates still has yet to vote on the bill, and would need the governor’s signature in order to pass, as it is unlikely there is enough votes in both houses to override a veto from the governor.


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