Presidential Tax Returns An Issue For Congress

By The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

March 21– Mar. 21–The goal is laudable, but the process is flawed. The state House of Representatives should reject a bill requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the ballot in Washington.

The impetus for the legislation is President Donald Trump’s refusal to make his returns available. Since his time as a candidate, Trump has claimed that because he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service, he could not release his tax returns. This is an absurdly disingenuous claim that is not supported by any law or policy, and it breaks with a practice that every major presidential candidate has embraced since Richard Nixon.

Releasing tax returns allows the public to see the sources of a candidate’s income, be it domestic or foreign. While the president and his supporters have long claimed that investigations into Russia’s influence in the 2016 election amount to a “witch hunt,” there is credible evidence that members of his inner circle met frequently with Russian operatives. The New York Times reported in January that there have been more than 100 Russian contacts involving at least 17 Trump associates.

Releasing his tax returns could help clear a cloud that has lingered over the Trump administration and reassure the public that the president is working on behalf of American interests rather than a foreign power. Instead, Trump has invited mistrust.

But while the public would be well-served if the president were to release his tax returns for the past several years, the Legislature is not the proper venue for trying to force his hand. Congress must take the lead in compelling that transparency.

Last month, the U.S. House passed H.R. 1 to require the release of tax returns (Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, voted against the bill). In the Senate, the legislation has been blocked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Even if Congress were to pass the bill, it certainly would be vetoed by Trump, but that would not be the end of the matter.

Several House committees are empowered under the U.S. Tax Code to require Trump to turn over his tax records. Republicans in Congress have declined to seek such transparency, but the House is now under Democratic control. The chairs of those committees have said they will wait until Special Counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigation into Russian election meddling before possibly pursuing that avenue.

Regardless of how the issue plays out, it must be handled in Washington, D.C., rather than this Washington. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson told lawmakers that the state’s approach is “likely constitutional” but that it “would definitely be challenged in court,” a development that could push the question beyond the 2020 election.

If Trump is kept off the Washington state ballot — Gov. Jay Inslee has expressed support for the bill — such an outcome would create as many problems as it solves. Unilaterally preventing voters from considering the candidate of a major party would exacerbate the nation’s deep political divide and ratchet up the partisanship that is infecting our electoral system.

We believe that candidates should release their tax returns. That secrecy should lead to questions about what a candidate is hiding. That transparency should be a requirement for somebody who wants to lead this nation. But while voters should reject any presidential candidate who refuses to release their financial records, those voters should have the opportunity to decide for themselves.

This article provided by NewsEdge.