Maine lawmakers could soon join an effort to force presidential candidates to release their tax returns.
The legislation is a response to President-elect Donald Trump, who broke a decades-long tradition designed to provide the public with information about a candidate’s finances, business interests and charitable donations.
Democratic state Rep. Seth Berry said he has introduced a bill that will resemble proposals introduced in state houses in New York and Massachusetts. The New York bill is called Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public, or T.R.U.M.P. If passed, it would effectively bar electors in that state’s Electoral College from voting for a presidential candidate who doesn’t release five years of tax returns at least 50 days before the general election.
The Massachusetts proposal kicks in sooner, and it would actually keep presidential hopefuls from appearing on the ballot unless they turn over at least three years worth of returns before that state’s primary election.
Details of the Maine bill are not yet public, but Berry said it’s time to start enforcing a 40-year-old tradition for presidential candidates.
“I believe that the tradition that has been honored over the past several decades should be a requirement. In order to be on the ballot in Maine a candidate should have to file their tax returns publicly,” he said.
Berry said the bill isn’t designed to target Trump but to make sure voters know the financial interests of future presidents.
The issue became a centerpiece of this year’s election because the reality TV personality and real estate mogul refused to release his returns. The documents would have shown what Trump claimed in deductions, his effective tax rate, business investments, how much he gave to charity and whether he has financial holdings in other countries.
Speculation about all of those issues were a focal point during the campaign.
“You gotta ask yourself, why won’t he release his tax returns? I think there may be a couple of reasons. First, maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is. Second, maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be,” Hillary Clinton said during one of the presidential debates.
It’s unclear whether Clinton’s attempt to use Trump’s nondisclosure had any effect on the election. Trump has said he won’t release his returns because he is under audit by the IRS.
But the president-elect’s finances continue to be an issue. His offshore holdings are of keen interest amid reports of the Russian government’s interference in the election and the mutual admiration between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Also, Trump’s claims about his charitable donations were largely debunked after an investigation by the Washington Post. And the one snippet of his tax return that was publicized showed Trump claimed a loss of nearly $1 billion in 1995, thereby allowing him to avoid paying taxes for nearly 20 years.
Berry said there’s no undoing Trump’s election. But future candidates should not be able to skirt a tradition designed to inform voters.
“Mainers place a very high value on transparency and rightly so. We want to hold our elected officials to the highest possible standards. That’s what the bill seeks to do,” Berry said.
Berry said he’s open to requiring other candidates, even state legislators, to disclose their tax returns. But for now, he said, it’s important that future presidential hopefuls adhere to the standard set after the re-election of one of the most scandal-plagued presidents in history: Richard Nixon.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.