By Nick Cahill, Courthouse News
SACRAMENTO (CN) – Going against his own party, California Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday vetoed a President Donald Trump-inspired proposal that would have required presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the statewide ballot.
Brown, a fourth-term governor and one-time presidential hopeful who didn’t release his income tax returns to voters in previous elections, said the proposal would set a “slippery slope” for future elections.
“Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?” Brown said in a veto message. “Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?”
The measure was introduced in December 2016 by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg. The legislation was modeled after a New York proposal coined the TRUMP Act, which stalled in the Empire State Legislature in May.
California’s version would have required presidential candidates to release five years of tax returns in order to be listed on California’s primary election ballot. The authors said they wanted to “make transparency great again” after Trump bucked the custom of presidential candidates releasing tax returns to voters in 2016, a tradition born in response to a tax scandal that resulted in Richard Nixon releasing his 1969 personal income tax return.
“I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook,” Nixon said famously in 1973. “Well, I am not a crook.”
The Legislature passed Senate Bill 149 in September on a mostly party-line vote. Supporters included California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and a host of labor unions led by the Service Employees International Union.
Brown sided with the Legislature’s lawyers that said the proposal was likely unconstitutional because it could keep someone who was otherwise eligible to be president off the ballot of the nation’s most populous state. A Senate Rules Committee analysis warned that the bill would “likely be challenged in court” but that it “appears to be constitutional.”
Wiener said that he was “disappointed” that Brown vetoed his measure, adding that he will “keep fighting.”
“The American public deserves transparency and accountability when selecting their president. Voters are entitled to tax information about whether candidates have financial conflicts of interest that could undermine their ability to govern ethically and effectively,” Wiener said in a statement.
With Sunday’s actions, Brown has vetoed more than 100 bills during the current legislative session.