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California Could Require Presidential Primary Candidates To Release Their Tax Returns – But Is That Constitutional?

A 1040 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return form for 2018.
A 1040 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return form for 2018.
Mark Lennihan/AP

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A bill heading to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk would require candidates to submit five years of tax returns to run in the state’s presidential primary. 

The move would affect President Trump, who has long-avoided releasing his tax returns, as well as the Democratic candidates who have not yet made their returns public. If the bill is signed into law, candidates who don’t comply won’t show up on the state primary ballot.

The bill’s requirements would apply to candidates running for Governor as well.

This is not the first time California has tried to require tax returns from candidates. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2017, saying the policy could set a dangerous precedent for documents like birth certificates or health records to be required in the future. 

Legal experts are split over whether the bill and others like it are constitutional. Opponents say past Supreme Court decisions have shown states can’t regulate their ballots for political gain. Legal experts supporting the bill say it’s been carefully crafted, and it doesn’t limit ballot access because it’s something all candidates can easily do.

Larry sits down with legal experts to hear the arguments on each side. Do you think candidates should be legally required to release their tax returns? Call us at 866-893-5722.


Gowri Ramachandran, professor of law at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles; she testified before the State Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of the bill 

Derek Muller, associate professor of law at Pepperdine University; he tweets @derektmuller