TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie rejected Democratic-backed legislation to require future presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on New Jersey's election ballot, calling the measure "clearly unconstitutional" and a "transparent political stunt."
Christie, who is a longtime friend of President Donald Trump, described his opposition in a conditional veto he delivered Monday that eliminated the tax disclosure requirement and recommended that lawmakers instead agree to amend the state's Open Public Records Act to eliminate the current exemption for legislative records.
"This transparent political stunt masquerading as a bill is politics at its worst," Christie said in his veto message.
"Unwilling to cope with the results of last November's election, the Legislature introduced this unconstitutional bill as a form of therapy to deal with their disbelief at the 2016 election results, and play politics to their base," he added.
The legislation was approved by the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate in March. It would require presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their five most recent years of tax returns or forfeit their spots on the general election ballot.
The bill would also require the returns to be published on the state Election Law Enforcement Commission's website and prohibit any elector from voting for the candidates if they failed to comply.
During the presidential campaign, Trump cited a federal audit for his refusal to release recent returns. For decades, major party candidates for the White House have released them. After the inauguration, Trump's senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, said the president would not release them, even after the audit was completed.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-37th of Teaneck, and Assemblymen John McKeon, D-27th of West Orange, and Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, were the prime sponsors of the legislation.
McKeon has said that the bill was inspired by Trump's refusal to disclose his tax returns, but that it was directed at future elections.
"(All) Gov. Christie can think about is his ally Donald Trump. Sad!" McKeon said Monday in a statement to The Associated Press.
Singleton said he did not believe the governor's veto would be the final word on the issue.
"I was disappointed in Gov. Christie's refusal to sign into law an initiative that, according to a January ABC News/Washington Post poll, 74 percent of Americans support, which is that the president should release his tax returns," the assemblyman said. "That said, the governor is just one voice on this issue, but I predict his will not be the last."
Christie said that lawmakers' assertions that the legislation was intended to increase transparency was disingenuous, but that he was giving them the opportunity to approve his revised bill mandating that they open their own records to public disclosure.
"If transparency is what the Legislature wants, let's get our own house in order first," he wrote in the veto message. "These changes would eliminate the bill's unconstitutional federal income tax disclosure requirements with a provision designed to bring true transparency and public access to the political process."