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T.R.U.M.P. Act proposal would require candidates to release tax returns to get on the ballot

A bill in the N.C. Senate would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on North Carolina ballots in future elections. 

The Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public Act, or the T.R.U.M.P. Act, was filed by Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, on April 5. The bill would require a candidate to file their most recent five years of tax returns with the N.C. State Board of Elections 70 days before the general election.

Documents would be published online with redacted personal information — but if a candidate were not to meet this requirement, they would not appear on the ballot, Chaudhuri said. 

“I think that our democracy deserves this kind of transparency,” he said.

President Donald Trump refused to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential election, breaking from a long-established precedent.

Before Trump, every major presidential candidate in both parties for 40 years released tax returns, Chaudhuri said.

He said the bill would allow the public to determine whether candidates have conflicts of interest, and that there is widespread support for this kind of legislation.

“We know that a majority of North Carolinians support such a proposal, and we've seen support from both Democrats and Republicans,” he said.

Similar bills have been proposed in at least 25 other states across the country.

The N.C. bill has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee. But Chaudhuri said he does not expect the bill to receive a hearing unless it receives widespread public support.

“I think the success of the bill will depend on whether there is public engagement and advocacy by the public to make sure that the bill gets a hearing,” he said.

Chaudhuri said that, despite the name, the bill isn’t just for Trump.

“Whether the candidate is Donald Trump or not is frankly not relevant to this discussion,” he said. “I just think that it's important that we disclose tax returns so the public has a real sense of whether there are any conflicts of interest that exist for those candidates that are running for the highest office in the land.”

Other North Carolinians took to the streets in Raleigh Saturday to call for Trump to release his tax returns — one of many Tax Marches nationwide.

Logan Smith, a spokesperson at Progress North Carolina, helped organize the Raleigh march.

“The tax march has one main goal overall, nationwide, and that is to show Donald Trump and show the media that when Trump says nobody cares about his tax returns — well, that's just not true,” Smith said.

Smith said this legislation isn’t a measure for Democrats to keep Republicans off the ballot. He compared it to the 22nd Amendment, which was created to limit presidents to two terms in office after Franklin Roosevelt was elected for a third and fourth term.

“For 40 years, this has been a bipartisan practice of releasing your tax returns,” Smith said. “I'm sure if Hillary Clinton had not released her tax returns that Republicans would've been extraordinarily angry about that. The state is simply using its authority to set valid procedure.”

Progress North Carolina is actively lobbying for the passage of the T.R.U.M.P. Act. Their petition supporting the bill had almost 6,000 signatures as of Monday night.

“By supporting this T.R.U.M.P. Act legislation, we are showing that this issue is not going away just because Trump won the election without having to release his tax returns,” Smith said.

But not everyone thinks this legislation is the most effective form of action. Derek Muller, a Pepperdine University law professor, published an op-ed opposing the proposal of legislation like the T.R.U.M.P. Act in states nationwide.

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“I’d hate to break it to people who want to see his taxes, but the best route is really a political process one — that is, putting political pressure on him,” Muller said.

Muller said he believes the T.R.U.M.P Act is unconstitutional.

“When we file our taxes, we have this expectation of privacy, and that’s why you can’t kind of go back and undo those decisions,” he said.

Trump's refusal to release his taxes is not unprecedented, Muller said. Presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney were also reticent to release their full tax returns, he said. 

Trump might eventually release his tax information due to scrutiny from the public and the media, Muller said. 

“If people are really upset about it, then just don’t vote for the candidate,” Muller said.