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California Tries to Keep Trump off Primary Ballot

Photo: Jonathan Ernst

The California Legislature is taking a second run at keeping Donald Trump off the state’s primary ballot. Last week, the Senate and Assembly passed legislation to require that candidates for president, and governor, hand over five years’ worth of tax returns before their name gets onto the ballot next March. President Trump has refused to release his 1040s, the first president since Gerald Ford to balk at doing so. A predecessor bill, 2017’s SB 149, was vetoed by then-governor Jerry Brown, who doubted it passed the constitutional test, as well as opening a “slippery slope” of other demands, his veto message said.

The bill, written by state senators Scott Wiener of San Francisco and Mike McGuire of Eureka, passed both chambers handily with more than the two-thirds vote required. Both of Santa Barbara’s legislators, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblymember Monique Limón, voted for the bill. Jackson pointed to Trump’s refusal, and said she preferred transparency: “I’ve always suspected, as the public does, that President Trump has things he wants to hide.” Limón thought the returns would “provide an important snapshot of a President’s financial investments, possible donations, and outside income.” 

SB 27 is fairly identical to SB 149 in its language, but adds candidates for governor to the list. “[T]he State of California has a strong interest in ensuring that its voters make informed, educated choices in the voting booth,” the proposed law says. “[A] Presidential candidate’s income tax returns provide voters with essential information regarding the candidate’s potential conflicts of interest, business dealings, financial status, and charitable donations.” SB 27 goes on to say the information shows the risk of a candidate “engaging in corruption or the appearance of corruption” and “any violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution or statutory prohibitions on behavior such as insider trading.” It adds that compliance costs would be “trivial.”

In a statement released after the bill passed the Assembly, McGuire said, “Presidential candidates need to put their own interests aside in the name of transparency. So far, our current President has done the opposite and it’s time that President Trump steps up, stops with the obstruction, and follows through with 40 years of time-honored tradition that has made this nation’s democracy stronger. This commonsense legislation applies equally to all candidates, from all political parties, including the Governor of California.”

Greg Gandrud, a member of the Santa Barbara County Republican’s executive committee, disagreed: “The U.S. Constitution sets forth the qualifications to be President. It’s a farcical waste of time for the Democrats in California to pass a clearly unconstitutional law when we are suffering here in California with horrible homelessness, terrible roads, and failing schools which are all failures of the Democrat regime that has controlled California for so many decades.” He believed the president would be on the ballot and that the matter was headed for federal court.

The bill goes next to Governor Gavin Newsom. Limón pointed to an interview he gave the Sacramento Bee on July 15 in which he hinted that the inclusion of a governor’s returns in the bill “was suggestive of an inclination” of support. Newsom’s office said SB27 “would be evaluated on its own merits” and that he’d already committed to releasing his tax returns each year he is in office.

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