By Bruce DePuyt
Presidential candidates hoping to have their names on the ballot in Maryland would have to release five years of federal tax returns if a measure approved Monday by the state Senate becomes law.
The bill follows the 2016 campaign in which Republican Donald Trump broke with tradition by refusing to release his federal tax returns. It passed 28-17 after a brief but heated debate on the Senate floor.
The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), says voters have a right to know what financial entanglements or potential vulnerabilities a future president might have.
“It is really a new day,” Pinsky said. “We need to know if a president has a dubious partnership with a foreign entity. If they have a liability of a billion dollars. And that’s what this bill does. It’s not a condition to serve as president. It’s a condition to be on the ballot.”
Senate Republicans savaged the measure, calling it hopelessly partisan, and likening it to Trump’s debunked claims that President Obama was not born in the U.S. They predicted it would be overturned in the courts if it became law.
“This is the most childish bill that I’ve ever seen, and I’m embarrassed that it’s on the floor,” said Senate Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Eastern Shore).
Four Democrats sided with GOP lawmakers in voting against the measure, including Sen. James Brochin (Baltimore County), who said, “The constitution of the United States of America says that if you want to be president you’ve got to be 35 years old and you’ve got to live in the country 14 years. It doesn’t say anything about your tax returns.”
Sen. Stephen M. Waugh (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) predicted the state would be “hammered and humiliated” if the tax return disclosure law were to be challenged. He and other Republicans mocked an attorney general’s opinion that concluded the bill “is not clearly unconstitutional.”
Undeterred, Pinsky said, “A lot of states have a lot of flexibility in condition for getting on the ballot. We think [this] is reasonable.”
Pressed repeatedly by reporters to release his returns before and since becoming president, Trump has said he can’t do so because of an ongoing IRS audit, a claim deemed specious by tax experts.
Legislatures in California and New Jersey have passed bills similar to Pinsky’s in recent years, but both measures were vetoed by the governor.
The measure now heads to the House of Delegates, whose own version of the bill, sponsored by Del. Jimmy Tarlau (D-Prince George’s), was the subject of a hearing last month.
It could not be learned on Monday night whether Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., a Republican who refused to back Trump in 2016, would sign the measure.