Democrats on Monday advanced a measure that would require presidential candidates to disclose complete income tax returns in the wake of President Trump’s refusal to do so.
House Bill 1328 passed the House Finance Committee on a party-line 7-5 vote. The legislation faces an uphill battle in the divided legislature.
The bill would require candidates for president and vice president to disclose federal income tax returns for the last five tax years at least 90 days before the general election to qualify for the ballot. Returns would be posted on the secretary of state’s website.
“Tax returns provide voters with essential information about a candidate’s potential conflicts of interest, their business arrangements, their financial standing, and their approach to charity and to charitable donations,” said Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, a co-sponsor of the bill.
Despite efforts by sponsors to portray the legislation as a nonpartisan issue, it came to the committee overshadowed by national politics. Colorado is the 27th state to introduce legislation surrounding tax return disclosures, according to sponsors of the measure.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Denver’s Civic Center on Saturday as part of a national effort aimed at forcing Trump to release his returns. The protests were timed to coincide with when taxes are due on Tuesday.
Trump has faced pressure to release his returns as allegations of ties to Russia continue to plague his presidency. Others say it is simply a matter of transparency.
While presidential candidates are not legally obligated to release their returns, candidates have historically done so. Polling suggests that a vast majority of Americans believe candidates should release their returns.
“I know what a Russian spy looks like and acts like, and this is treacherous, and I’m scared, I’m scared for our country, I’m scared for our children,” said Becky Benedict, an activist who participated in Saturday’s march and described herself as someone who worked for 30 years in the defense industry.
“There are Russian spies in our White House,” she continued during testimony before the committee. “Republicans did not do their job vetting their candidate. Trump’s taxes will tell us what are these ties to Russia.”
Republicans, however, raised legal concerns. Those concerns are shared by the secretary of state’s office, which is opposing the bill. The office is led by Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
“The secretary of state’s office has serious concerns as to the constitutionality of this bill,” said Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert, pointing to the possibility of expensive lawsuits.
“While the United State Supreme Court has allowed states to put restrictions on ballot access in order to weed out unserious candidates, states may not add regulations that add to the list of qualifications for a federal candidate, nor may states add ballot access statutes that are driven by political motivations.”
Colorado is one of the easiest states to make the ballot as a presidential candidate, which resulted in 22 candidates on the ballot last year. Colorado is one of only two states that allows independent candidates access to the ballot by paying a filing fee, which is $1,000.
“Ballot access fundamentally gives voters the right to choose,” Staiert said.
Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton, questioned why the legislation would only require the disclosure of tax returns if the goal is complete transparency.
“What about clubs that you were associated with in college? Papers that you wrote? Positions that you took? Marches that you took part in?” Lawrence asked. “I don’t think a tax return tells you as much as you think it will.”
But Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, a co-sponsor of the bill, said tax return requirements would be a step in the right direction.
“The point here is that the Colorado voter have an opportunity to scrutinize financial statements … from the president and decide for themselves,” she said.