A California law that requires candidates to disclose their taxes to appear on the primary ballot seems to be aimed at President Donald Trump. However, Republicans in the Golden State worry that the real target could be the Republican Party in general.
The bill is called the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act. It was signed in July by Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom even though his predecessor — Democrat Jerry Brown, not exactly known as a closet conservative — vetoed a similar bill because he thought it wouldn’t pass legal muster.
The state is currently being sued over the implementation of the bill, which would require five years of tax returns to be made public for each candidate in order to appear on the state’s primary ballot.
At present, it doesn’t look like this is going to have any effect on Trump, who has refused to release his taxes while they’re under audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
While Trump has two primary challengers for the Republican nomination, neither has gained any traction.
Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld has attracted so little attention it seems likely he won’t even merit being the answer to a trivia question. Meanwhile, radio talk show host and former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh’s campaign spiel has to do with accusing the president of being an erratic racist, which is interesting because not too long ago Walsh was publishing Twitter posts that had his critics saying pretty much the same thing about him.
There’s also Mark Sanford, a former governor and representative from South Carolina, who’s dithered about being in the race so much he seems a bit like Hamlet, if Hamlet had ever hiked the Appalachian Trail. Altogether, this isn’t a promising bunch for NeverTrumpers, and even if Trump loses the California primary he’s still going to be in good shape when it comes to the Republican nomination.
The problem comes down-ballot, however.
Those of you who are familiar with California’s bizarre electoral system will no doubt be familiar with the concept of the “jungle primary,” where Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, Democratic Socialists, Undemocratic Socialists, independents and everyone else running is thrown into the mix together. The top two candidates — regardless of party affiliation — end up on the general election ballot in November.
This wonderful system, put onto the ballot in 2010, has locked Republicans out of many general elections in a state that’s becoming bluer by the year.
The state Republican Party fears locking Trump out of a primary — even if the opposition is nominal — will lead to depressed turnout among conservatives in the primary, a shift which could lead to a further erosion of GOP representation, both statewide and at the federal level.
“We’re not talking about keeping President Trump off the ballot in the general election,” California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Patterson told Fox News.
“But what this will do is make sure that Republican voters stay home for the primaries and give Democrats a big opportunity when it comes to the general election.”
Democrats continue to insist that’s not the case.
“While Donald Trump surfaced the tax return loophole that SB 27 closes, this isn’t about Trump,” California state Sen. Scott Wiener said in a statement to Fox, referring to the law requiring tax returns for candidates.
“Rather, it’s about all presidential candidates from all parties. When someone is seeking to become the most powerful person in the world, the voters deserve basic information about the person’s finances. That’s all we’re asking for.”
This isn’t about Trump, according to Wiener, who introduced the bill with state Sen. Mike McGwire.
But they might want to get their stories coordinated, because McGwire issued a statement saying the law was, in fact, about Trump.
“The people are on our side, over 60 percent of Americans want President Trump to release his returns,” the statement to Fox News read.
“Voters deserve to know, for example, if the president is putting America’s security at risk through his tangled web of business dealings with corporate interests and his dealings with foreign governments and foreign banks. Here’s the bottom line: What does he have to hide?”
However, there is a certain felicity to the law, particularly when you realize Democrats flipped six House seats in California during the 2018 midterms. And this is when you consider Democrats already have an advantage by having a competitive primary.
“You’re already going to see a big discrepancy in voter turnout between Republicans and Democrats because Trump is an incumbent without any real challengers in the primary,” Eric McGhee, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, told Fox News.
“But if this does go through, it could have a big effect on the down-ballot races because of the top-two primary system in the state.”
And consider why even Jerry Brown thought this law was a bad idea when he vetoed it during the 2017-2018 California legislative session.
“First, it may not be constitutional,” Brown said at the time, according to the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.
“Second, it sets a ‘slippery slope’ precedent. Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? 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? A qualified candidate’s ability to appear on the ballot is fundamental to our democratic system. For that reason, I hesitate to start down a road that well might lead to an ever-escalating set of differing state requirements for presidential candidates.”
Judicial Watch is suing, arguing that the bill violates a number of constitutional precedents — most notably the Qualifications Clause, which doesn’t set out anything about tax returns when determining who can and who can’t run for president. The Trump campaign is suing as well.
If neither lawsuit succeeds, it’s hard to imagine something that’s more nakedly designed as a power-grab when it comes to down-ballot races. If this were a red state, the hue and cry would be immense.
Perhaps Republicans can play off of the backlash, but if this unconstitutional move isn’t rendered moot in the courts, the last remaining vestiges of the GOP could be wiped out in California — all from the party that moans like a stuck hippo about how gerrymandering is the only reason it doesn’t have a massive permanent majority in the House.
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