By Amelia Heymann
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – In a slap at President Donald Trump, two Democratic legislators are pushing for a state law requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to get on the ballot in Virginia.
Del. Mark Levine of Alexandria and Sen. Jeremy McPike of Woodbridge filed their legislation after Trump refused to make his tax returns public during the Republican nominee's successful presidential campaign last fall. It had been a tradition for presidential hopefuls to disclose their tax filings; candidates had done so for 40 years.
"It had been done not as required by law, but because the presidential candidates felt that the voters had a right to know," Levine said.
Under current state law, to get on the presidential ballot in Virginia, a candidate must submit to the State Board of Elections petitions signed by at least 5,000 qualified voters, including at least 200 qualified voters from each of Virginia's 11 congressional districts.
Levine's bill (HB 2444) says the candidate "shall also attach a statement, signed under penalty of perjury by the person seeking the nomination, that he has disclosed (i) his federal tax returns from each year of the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election and (ii) any payments or remuneration exceeding $1,000 received from any foreign source during the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election."
McPike's measure (SB 1543) would require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns for the previous five years. "The official ballot shall not contain the name of any candidate who did not submit the federal tax returns and income tax returns filed in any state," the bill says. It would apply to primaries as well as general elections.
Similar legislation is before by the U.S. Congress. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Finance Committee, is sponsoring the Presidential Tax Transparency Act. According to the committee's website, the bill was introduced to get Trump, who was inaugurated last week, to release his tax returns.
"The fact that the president-elect refuses to release his tax returns is a tragic failure of transparency, and it needs to be corrected," Wyden said when filing the proposal.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who was Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's running mate, helped write Wyden's bill.
Trump, a Republican, has been under pressure to disclose his tax returns because critics say that his business enterprises may present a conflict of interest. Some think Trump has avoided releasing his tax returns to hide certain business interests – in Russia, for example.
Levine said that polls show most Americans, including Republicans, believe the president's business interests are important to know about.
On ABC's "This Week," Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, discussed Trump's tax returns.
"The White House response is that he's not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care. They voted for him," she said.
Levine said he is "not optimistic" about the bill passing in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. However, he said, he is "always hopeful."
HB 2444 has been assigned to the Campaigns Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Levine believes the subcommittee will vote on the bill next week.
SB 1543 has been referred to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.
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