Three out of five Washington voters agree that candidates for President of the United States should be required to disclose at least five years of personal tax returns in order to appear on the state’s general election ballot, with a majority of fifty-one percent in strong agreement, NPI’s most recent survey has found.
A bill that would make tax return disclosure mandatory for presidential candidates wishing to appear the ballot in the Evergreen State (SB 5078) passed out of Washington’s Senate on March 12th, but did not receive a vote in the House.
Senate Bill 5078 remains alive because the current Legislature will return for a new session in January of 2020, which may last as long as sixty days.
Bill sponsor Patty Kuderer (D-48th District), who represents NPI’s home legislative district, is committed to getting a version of the bill to Governor Inslee next year.
“Every Washingtonian – indeed every American – should rightfully expect tax return disclosure for all presidential candidates. It has been an essential transparency standard for over forty years,” said Kuderer.
“The stakes for the Presidency are unmatched by any other elected office in our country. In the past, we relied on the character of candidates from all parties to meet this standard, but it is now painfully clear that we can no longer rely on character alone. That is why this bill is so important.”
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this survey result is that fifty-one percent of the respondents — a majority — said they strongly agree that presidential candidates should be required to disclosure their tax returns. It’s an emphatic endorsement of the work Senator Kuderer has been doing with SB 5078.
Here is the full question we asked and the responses we received:
Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statement: Candidates for President of the United States should be required to disclose at least five years of their personal tax returns before their names can appear on Washington’s general election ballot?
- Agree: 60%
- Strongly Agree: 51%
- Somewhat Agree: 9%
- Disagree: 33%
- Somewhat Disagree: 10%
- Strongly Disagree: 23%
- Not Sure: 7%
Our survey of eight hundred and eighty-six likely 2019 Washington State voters was in the field May 21st-May 22nd, 2019. The survey used a blended methodology with automated phone calls to landlines and online interviews of cell phone only respondents. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for NPI, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.3% at the 95% confidence level.
Support for requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns can be found in every region of the state, even in Eastern Washington, which backed Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy. 48% of voters there agree presidential candidates should be required to disclose their tax returns in order to appear on the state’s ballot, while 43% disagree and 8% were not sure.
“Our state values honesty, transparency and demands the same of our elected leaders,” said Carl Larson of Presidential Transparency, a group that has mobilized Washingtonians in support of SB 5078. “Washington has no tolerance for the sort of corruption and backroom shenanigans we see in some other states.”
Some opponents of SB 5078 have asserted that the bill is unconstitutional because they interpret it as adding a qualification to the office of President.
However, Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office disagrees. In a March 12th opinion, Ferguson assessed that the bill was “likely constitutional.”
“There is nothing inherently unconstitutional about a state regulation that restricts candidates’ access to a general election or presidential primary ballot,” the AGO opinion states. “The United States Supreme Court has upheld ballot access restrictions when they were ‘generally applicable and evenhanded restrictions that protect the integrity and reliability of the electoral process itself.'”
From the 1970s until 2016, the presidential nominees of each major political party have voluntarily released at least one or more years of their personal tax returns. However, the amount of data each candidate has provided has varied wildly.
For instance, Bob Dole released thirty years of returns in 1996, while John Kerry released twenty years’ worth in 2004. George H.W. Bush released fourteen years of returns in 1992; Bill Clinton released nineteen years of returns four years later.
More recently, though, John McCain and Mitt Romney each only provided returns going back two years — the fewest since Carter in 1976 and Reagan in 1980.
Why has there been so much variation? Because there’s no law requiring candidates for President of the United States to release their personal tax returns. It’s a norm that developed in the wake of Watergate which candidates have respected and followed to varying degrees… until Donald Trump came along.
As mentioned, though, even before Trump, there was a disparity with respect to how much information the public was getting from the major party’s presidential nominees. Barack Obama chose to release more than five years of tax returns during each of his campaigns, but his opponents only released two years’ worth.
To ensure that the public and the press can appropriately scrutinize presidential candidates going forward, there must be a minimum standard of disclosure. Presidents of the United States are elected for four year terms and wield an incredible amount of power, incomparable to any other elected position in the land.
How can we assess if a candidate is prepared or even able to govern responsibly if they withhold most — or all — of their recent tax returns? How do we know they’re free of foreign entanglements that could jeopardize our nation’s security?
Voters have a right to know whether someone they are considering supporting for President of the United States is someone they can trust who will faithfully discharge the duties required of them by the United States Constitution.
As ballot access is a matter that has been left to the states, it is entirely appropriate for legislators in Washington to decide that presidential candidates who want to appear on our ballot must disclose at least five years of tax returns.
Our research clearly shows that Washingtonians want their legislators to act to make presidential transparency the law here in the Pacific Northwest.
We call on the Washington State House of Representatives to join the Senate next January in passing a bill requiring presidential candidates to disclose five years of personal tax returns in time for the November 2020 general election.