At least in theory, there may be a way for elected New York Democrats to prod release of President Donald Trump’s tax information, according to University of Chicago Law School professor Daniel Hemel.
Hemel argued last week in a Washington Post opinion piece that a simple act of New York’s legislature could require the president’s home state to release the tax returns already in its possession.
State returns are kept as far back as 1990. Federal law bars state officials from releasing a taxpayer’s U.S. return, but not state forms, Hemel says. And those would show much of the same relevant information.
“Skeptics might say that public disclosure of Trump’s state tax returns would violate the principle of taxpayer privacy,” he writes. “But Trump is no ordinary taxpayer. The public has a right to know whether its president pays its fair share of taxes and whether he has financial conflicts of interest as commander in chief.”
Such a bill was, in fact, unveiled late last year by state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan). It now sits in the Investigations and Government Operations Committee, its prospects unclear. Democrats dominate the Assembly, and the Senate has a bipartisan ruling coalition but a Democratic-enrolled majority.
It will obviously be of widespread political interest to see how Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose name is floated as a 2020 presidential prospect, might treat this legislation. His office has yet to offer any comment on the issue.
As drafted, bill S5572 would require disclosure of tax returns by statewide elected public officials “including the president of the United States.”
The law also would apply to the state’s U.S. senators, the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general — who already disclose their tax returns voluntarily, as have presidential candidates for a generation, until Trump.
A memo filed with Hoylman’s bill, which Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn) is co-sponsoring, says the state Department of Taxation and Finance would be authorized to redact personal identifying information before posting these documents.
“New Yorkers deserve to know whether elected officials representing the state are paying their fair share of taxes or hold potential financial conflicts of interest,” the memo states.
In other states, lawmakers have focused on measures requiring candidates to release their federal income tax returns as a condition for appearing on those states’ presidential ballots.
But Hemel sees legal and political obstacles to that effort. He says changing the law to allow the state to release these returns offers “a much more viable option.”