NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, June 10th, 2019

Washington voters strongly support requiring presidential candidates to disclose tax returns

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.”

We agree.

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:

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWERS:

  • 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.

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