I once noted that current California Governor Gavin Newsom would ultimately make his predecessor, Jerry Brown, look like Ronald Reagan in comparison.

Even in the grip of anti-Trump hysteria, Brown vetoed a measure that would require primary candidates to disclose tax records before they were placed on the ballot. The former governor warned that it was unconstitutional and could have painful, unintended consequences.

While I recognize the political attractiveness-even the merits-of getting President Trump’s tax returns, I worry about the political perils of individual states seeking to regulate presidential elections in this manner. First, it may not be constitutional. Second, it sets a “slippery slope” precedent. Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?

A qualified candidate’s ability to appear on the ballot is fundamental to our democratic system. For that reason, I hesitate to start down a road that well might lead to an ever escalating set of differing state requirements for presidential candidates.

Newsom, on the other hand, approved the proposal known as SB 27:

President Trump will be ineligible for California’s primary ballot next year unless he discloses his tax returns under a state law that took effect immediately Tuesday, an unprecedented mandate that is almost certain to spark a high-profile court fight and might encourage other states to adopt their own unconventional rules for presidential candidates.

The law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on the final day he could take action after it passed on a strict party-line vote in the Legislature earlier this month, requires all presidential candidates to submit five years of income tax filings. They must do so by late November to secure a spot on California’s presidential primary ballot in March. State elections officials will post the financial documents online, although certain private information must first be redacted.

…“As one of the largest economies in the world and home to one in nine Americans eligible to vote, California has a special responsibility to require this information of presidential and gubernatorial candidates,” Newsom said in a statement that accompanied his signature on the bill. “These are extraordinary times and states have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confidence. The disclosure required by this bill will shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interest.”

It’s all about the “transparency”:

Many analysts question the constitutionality of this move. The editors of The Orange County Register say the measure is “shallow, self-serving political nonsense” and question Sacramento’s priorities.

At a time when federal funds hang in the balance for state and local transportation projects, housing subsidies, health care, law enforcement support and disaster assistance, the governor has recklessly thrown sand into the gears of the state’s necessary working relationship with the federal government.

At a time when the state government should be focused on problems such as its underfunded state pensions, its highest-in-the-nation taxes, the loss of businesses to other states and the growing crisis of homelessness, Newsom and the Legislature are spending their time thinking about how to compel a president in the third year of his term to release his tax returns.

On the other hand, Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky asserts SB 27 is completely constitutional.

In many cases, the United States Supreme Court has expressed deference to the states in deciding what qualifications to impose as a condition for being on the ballot. In Bullock vs. Carter (1972), the Court said, “Far from recognizing candidacy as a ‘fundamental right,’” state governments have authority to set conditions that must be met for a candidate to be on a ballot.

The court has put qualifications on those conditions, saying that ballot access rules are likely to be struck down if they discriminate against less affluent candidates or impose restrictions on new or small political parties. But requiring disclosure of tax returns does not run afoul of these conditions.

If this particular measure gets the blessing of the courts, I am looking forward to seeing what fun, new primary requirements will be established by our red state friends!

I predict that no matter the outcome of the legal cases that might arise from SB 27, California will ultimately help get President Trump re-elected. The state is nothing if not a shining sample of progressive priorities.


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