Shattering A Tradition Of Transparency

tt151-feb-9-2017.jpgFor decades, a fundamental expectation in politics has been that candidates who run for the presidency and vice presidency of the United States disclose their tax returns. That is until the unprecedented campaign of 2016, of course. President Donald Trump has adamantly refused to release his taxes to the public, which while is his prerogative, is a dangerous sign with regards to the transparency of the most powerful position in the world.

While it isn’t a law, it’s been a tradition, and since the 1970s, most presidents and vice presidents have released their tax returns, according to the Tax History Project (if you want to examine tax returns from past presidents (and candidates) going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, visit

Releasing one’s taxes has become an essential transparency test for every presidential and vice presidential candidate. Former Republican nominee Mitt Romney, acknowledged that our two top elected officials should continue this tradition. “The potential for hidden, inappropriate associations with foreign entities, criminal organizations, or other unsavory groups is simply too great a risk to ignore for someone who is seeking to become the commander in chief,” Romney said, according to one news report.

What is President Trump's answer to not disclosing his taxes? “We won,” a retort implying he didn’t have to follow this important tradition, appears to be his response. I believe, as do many in both political parties that he should disclose his tax returns. And, it’s not just the political establishment who feel this way. According to a January ABC News/Washington Post poll, 74% of Americans believe that the President should release his tax returns. I can’t emphasize too strongly how important transparency is so that citizens maintain faith in the political process and it doesn’t cave into a view of politics that smacks of nothing more than backroom dealing.

Beyond simply the issue of transparency, there are many reasons why a presidential or vice presidential candidate should release their tax returns, reasons that can hold grave consequences for our nation. Voters deserve to be armed with the whole truth before they make such a weighty decision. Since there seems to be an unwillingness to do anything about it in D.C., My colleague, Assemblyman John McKeon, and myself have looked to address this issue in New Jersey.

We have sponsored a proposal, A-4520, that requires any U.S. presidential and vice presidential candidate to disclose his or her federal tax returns taxes (for the most recent five-year period) if they wish to appear on the New Jersey ballot during the next national election. The bill would require candidates to file their tax returns with the Division of Elections. The division would then post the tax return on its website with 10 days.

The power of this legislation is that it is not simply a request for discourse but rather a demand on the part of New Jersey citizens. If you want New Jersyans to vote for you, there must be complete transparency on the part of candidates seeking the highest offices in the land.

New Jersey is not alone in this fight. There is a coalition of like-minded states and individuals that see this issue as a movement that will “get the attention” of our president and vice president. It is the ballot access project, and its goal to force a candidate to disclose taxes if they wish to appear to appear on a state ballot.

According to the project, “State Assembly leaders in New York, California, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have introduced legislation that can…force future presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose tax returns fully.” The project lists where many other states are in this process and offer a toolkit for guidance on what citizens can do to become involved.

Occasionally, our citizens lament that government doesn’t listen to them or that they cannot have a direct impact. I truly believe this issue and the direction of this proposal is a perfect example of participatory democracy that demands nothing less from our candidates than they confirm that they have no financial entanglements marring their run for the two highest offices in the land. Moving forward, I will be looking to amend this proposal to also include the office of Governor and the State Legislature under these requirements. On this issue, I associate myself the remarks of former President Ronald Reagan: “Trust but verify.” That’s my take, what’s yours?

Showing 6 reactions

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  • BallotAccess Project
    commented 2017-02-13 13:48:41 -0500
    Thank you for your leadership! We now have 15 states committed to legislation requiring financial transparency for ballot access. The recent national election certainly introduces complexity with international and domestic influence over our elected officials.
  • Margaret Shoe
    commented 2017-02-10 18:05:17 -0500
    I don’t agree with your comments. As a tax Accountant, I think the public just has a morbid curiosity as to how much people make and think a tax return will show them where the money came from, it will not give them the information they want to fuel discord because this President was not their choice and they want to generate as much discord as possible. When tax returns are under audit, they are not the actual acceptable returns until the audit is complete and accepted at which time the President could or could not release the final audited returns. To me as a Professional I find this matter of such little importance. If he paid a lot in taxes or he paid nothing in taxes because he utilized the laws, that we afford all people in preparing their taxes, as long as they are found to meet IRS standards its not a big deal; it is just curiosity of people looking to make mountains out of mole hills They could have gotten more information from the other financial information the President said were available. We all know the President is a Billionaire and WE are NOT, so why harp on it. Accept your lot in life and stop being jealous or resenting others who have accomplished more than we have, if you can’t, then get off your duff and do something to improve your own life.
  • Darby Horner
    commented 2017-02-09 20:43:39 -0500
    It is a basic ‘conflict if interest’ action, an ethical duty. A public official should want to maintain an objective viewpoint and not to have to face the temptation of self-interest over the good of the people he/she represents.
  • Martin Schlindwein
    commented 2017-02-09 18:50:08 -0500
    Good thing you got all those problems at home figured out. Guess our record high property taxes, political double dipping and corruption has all been delt with. I love you career politicians who’s sole job is to get reelected. " I know I’ll jump on this anti-Trump bandwagon "
    Where were you when Obama was regularly circumventing the legislature?
    How bout you get back to important legislation like cat claws and crushing small buisnesses. I’ll just continue to pay outrageous taxes including your latest gas tax.

    Thanks GRIP
  • Matt Ernandes
    commented 2017-02-09 14:32:28 -0500
    I believe it is a disgrace and a sign of arrogance for a public official to refuse to release tax returns. I would not vote for anyone who refuses. However, I wonder if this law is constitutional? If a candidate appears on the ballot of States that does not have the same requirement and wins the Party’s nomination, this law makes it difficult— not impossible— for the citizens of the State to vote for that candidate. One could argue that an effective write-in campaign would override this requirement.
  • Michele Williams
    commented 2017-02-09 14:26:27 -0500
    It should be an automatic attachment to the presidency that when the individual is elected, he/she must share publically the past ten years of financial information. If that type of disclosure is required, there will be no issues of nondisclosures in the future. In fact, it may help shield the public from an individual running for the highest office who might not be asserting complete factual realities. The story spinners (alternative facts and fiction tellers) would have truth to deal with and scrutiny to follow in the days and or moments of tenure to office.