On Tuesday evening a bill requiring all presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose the last 5 years of their tax returns in order to appear on Washington state ballots passed the Senate floor. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue), passed 28 to 21 along party lines, because of course it did.
If Gov. Inslee ends up signing this bill, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Joe Bernie Sanders Warren Harris would have to show us the money if they want to get a vote from a single Washingtonian.
Twenty-six other states have introduced similar legislation, but so far none have taken. Two years ago, California's Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill that passed through both chambers there.
Over the phone, Sen. Kuderer said she was "optimistic" Inslee would see "the wisdom in this bill" and sign it if it gets to him, making Washington state the first to force candidates to disclose returns to get on the ballot.
"Voters have a right to know what a candidate's conflict of interests are, they have a right to know their businesses' ties, their obligations, who they're beholden to," Kuderer said. "We've come to expect presidents and vice presidents to release their tax returns. It's become a vital piece of information when making a decision for the office," she added.
Kuderer expects the law will get tied up in courts given the subject matter but said lawmakers "shouldn't be afraid to pass legislation because someone might sue over it."
According to Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the bill is "probably" constitutional. In a letter to lawmakers issued earlier today, Ferguson said the proposal would "probably not" violate the Presidential Qualifications Clause in the Constitution because it wouldn't "exclude or handicap any class of candidates." He also said it would "probably not" violate the Presidential Elections Clause because the measure wouldn't mess with a party's "internal processes" for selecting a candidate.
However, Ferguson stressed it would be "exceptionally difficult to predict how a court would rule" on the constitutionality of this bill given the lack of precedent.
This is fun. If the request from Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. Congress gets tied up in courts, Washington state is poised to make Trump choose between showing us his probable connections to Russian oligarchs or writing off an entire state. Given the fact that Washington last voted for a Republican for president in 1984, he might be willing to do that. But if other states see that similar measures are possible and follow Washington's lead, then, well, we'll have a much more transparent 2020 election season.