The Massachusetts Legislature is considering a bill that would require presidential candidates to disclose at least three years' worth of their tax returns to appear on the statewide ballot. Massachusetts voters will also be able to vote on a similar measure in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. The measures are reportedly in response to President Donald Trump's refusal to release his tax returns during the 2016 election.
"The 2016 election shattered our confidence in the broad acceptance by presidential candidates of certain rules of public conduct," said bill sponsor Democratic state Sen. Mike Barrett, according to WBUR.
Trump declined to disclose any of his tax returns through the GOP primary and general election in the 2016 presidential race, bucking decades of precedent. He was the first major party nominee to refuse to release his tax returns since former President Gerald R. Ford in 1976, according to PolitiFact.
On Sept. 6, Democratic Secretary of State William Galvin of Massachusetts testified before the state Legislature's Joint Committee on Election Laws, asserting that the bill was necessary and should be passed swiftly.
"The public policy of disclosure, of understanding conflicts on interest of individuals who would hold the highest office in the land, is fundamental to our democracy," Galvin told the committee, according to MassLive.
Barrett's bill has drawn criticism from some legal scholars who believe it could violate the Constitution. The Constitution states that the only qualifications for presidential candidates are that they must be natural born citizens, they must be at least 35 years old, and they must had lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that states cannot add new criteria for presidential candidates.
Galvin stated during his testimony that he believed that the bill was constitutional but would need to be passed in short order to weather potential lawsuits before the 2020 election. The secretary also concurred with Barrett that the legislation was necessary following the 2016 election.
"This bill is not about Donald Trump," Galvin said, according to Reuters. "It's because of Donald Trump."
It remains unclear whether GOP Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts would sign the bill into law if it cleared the Legislature. Baker spokesperson Lizzy Guyton indicated that the governor had not yet determined his position on the issue.
"Governor Baker will carefully review any legislation that comes to his desk and as a candidate for governor released his own tax returns to the public," Guyton said.
Meanwhile, former Assistant Attorney General Thomas Kiley of Massachusetts has filed a ballot initiative that calls for presidential candidates to disclose up to six years of their tax returns in order to appear on the state ballot.
On Sept. 6, Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts certified Kiley's proposal as constitutional. The initiative will appear on the 2018 Massachusetts ballot if it picks up enough petition signatures.